Spinning Through New Orleans

After much effort and back and forth and crazy weddings and stressful jobs, I finally managed to read The Awakening by Kate Chopin as part of my Classic Club Spin #9 . It is a very thin book, more of a novella, than a novel, but there were to many happenings for me to sit down and read, but I am finally done and I am glad this is one book off my forever expanding checklist.

Now for the book –

The book is set in turn of the century, southern United States, New Orleans to be exact. The novel begins with the introduction of the Pontellier family, Léonce is a successful businessman, who is caring affectionate, if at times a trifle socially too aware of his position in society and the need for appearances. Edna is his wife, who devotes her time between her family and her sketches, but feels a need for something more to satisfy the sensitivity of her soul. They have two children – young boys Etienne and Raoul. The books opens with the Pontellier family vacationing on Grand Isles and residing at a homestay managed by Madame Leburn, who has two sons – Robert and Victor. As the novel unfolds, we discover an evolution in the character of Edna – she is great friends with Adèle Ratignolle, who epitomizes the very core of 19th century womanhood, a great wife and a wonderful mother, she is constantly busy trying to make life more comfortable for her family. Though Edna really admires Adèle Ratignolle, she cannot herself believe that she can quite become like her friend. She tell her Madame Ratignolle that for her own children she “would give up the unessential; I would give up my money, I would give up my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself”.  Soon Edna and Robert Laburn develop a friendly relationship that transitions into love for each other. Robert realizing the dead end nature of their relationship flees to Mexico under pretext of better career opportunity. Edna returns to her New Orleans and though she continues in her role of a wife and a mother, there are subtle changes in her character; she isolates herself from her former social circle, she takes up her sketching more seriously and refuses to attend her own sister’s wedding. The only two companions she seeks are Madame Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz, an eccentric pianist whom Edna had met at Grand Isle and who had fathomed the true relation between her and Robert. After some month pass, Léonce, travels to New York for business and the boys are sent to their grandmother during this period and it is during this period, Edna discovers the joy of being on one’s own and do things by herself. She is soon involved in a dalliance with Alcée Arobin, a wild man about town.  It is at this point Robert returns to town and though initially he is cold with Edna, he finally confesses his deep passionate love for her. However when Edna is called away to assist in Adèle Ratignolle with a difficult childbirth, Robert leaves, leaving a note that he is leaving forever because he loves her. This action, forces Edna to take certain decisions and act in a way to change her life directions once and for all.

I am not a particular fan of this kind of literature….the woman/man seeking fulfillment out of marriage kinds. They always seem to have the same theme, especially the ones written about the woman. Unhappy and dissatisfied with their lot, they seek some kind of happiness outside wedding vows with disastrous results. These books make me feel morbid and depressed and question the whole point of getting married or being in a relationship and all that. This book I must say was no different.  I saw no reason for Edna Pontellier to be dissatisfied with her life – she had married of her own choosing; that too to a man who was kind, caring and successful enough to provide her with all kinds of material comforts. She had two healthy children and a host of good, kind friends. There seemed to be hint of lack of sensitivity and artistic fulfillment in her life – music, books, art that make life rich, but that did not seem to be the core of her repining. She seemed to me to just plain bored, who like the attentions of a younger man and later gave herself to sexual pleasure with another man. The only time I could relate to her is when her husband was in New York and her children with Madame Pontellier, and she discovers the joy of doing things for herself. True, there is something absolutely delicious in having some precious moments of “me time”- I am guessing they are even more precious in the stifling 19th century society that demanded certain standards from a wife and a mother and therefore I could completely understand Edna’s joy in having her dinner dressed in a peignoir, reading Emerson till late etc. But outside of this one strain, I could not understand her at all. For no reason she wants to move into a smaller house all by herself – she gives no reason for her actions and gaily and cheerfully writes to her husband telling him of her decision. She seems to me completely utterly selfish through the book – under the cover of “being herself”, she does all manner of things without any regard for other’s feelings. She refuses to attend her sister’s wedding, because of she is missing Robert. While I understand the concept of loving and loosing someone, I cannot understand being absolutely blind to others who love you and to whom you matter. Her actions against Léonce I could not understand at all. Here is good kind man who tries everything in his power to make her happy and comfortable and she leaves his house without any regard to his position in the society or what he may feel. I am not even getting into her dalliance with Alcée Arobin – why she should choose infidelity towards her husband, that too with a man whom she cares nothing about, is nothing but an act of temporary irresponsible actions. Her final act of course was the final nail in the coffin – I understand, completely understand being abandoned, but you live on, because life is a gift and you have to live it; there are other people who love and care and for that love, one has the duty to not only live but flourish. This kind of sentimental namby-pamby a-la Madame Bovary is just nonsensical – as if that is the only road open to women after hysterical extra marital affairs!!!  I would any day lay my money on Hester Prynneis from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who is more of a heroine for living and living with courage, virtue and dignity, than deciding for sentimental and so called sensitive ending, that showcase some form of artistic freedom!

This book has been hailed as one of the first feminist novels, because the woman lives or tries to live her life on her own terms. I am not sure I am at all in agreement with this school of thought – true a woman should be able to live her life exactly the way she chooses, but not at the cost of being selfish or hurting other. Before we are men or woman, we are humans and as humans we have to be cognizant of fellow feelings and sentiments. Living your life on your own terms is a great power, but in the words of a great man, with great power comes great responsibility. You are responsible for your conduct, towards yourself and others.

The redeeming feature of the book is the language- Ms. Chopin did not focus on frills and got to the very heart of the matter. But her words are simply beautiful, picturesque and haunting; here’s a sample “The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.” Or “But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult! The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.” Lovely, soul searing language and a vivid description of New Orleans and Grand Isles makes this novel so much more readable.

I am glad to have read it, but I am not sure I will ever re-read it again. To me the only thing that came out of this novel was that in this genre of literature, Hester Prynneis so much more a stronger heroine, simply because she chooses life even at its lowest ebb!

Spinning Experiment…

New month, new beginning, new reading and new reading experiments….that seems to be the flavor for the month of April. I know that it’s a bit late to share April reading plans and lately I have not managed to stick to any of my planned readings , due to work pressure; but perseverance is the key to success and I preserver!

To begin with, I am participating in the Classic Club Spin#9 and it has spun #2 which in my list is Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”. I have been dreading reading this book for some time, though many wise people have told me that this is a brilliant piece of work, but my heart quails, but perseverance…I have ordered the book and now await the delivery. (Some books are better read as books and not Kindle, especially the one I consider “challenging”)

I have also heard a lot of great things about Isabel Allende’s “The House of Spirits” – it’s a family saga, set over three generations in some of the most difficult time in Columbian history. I have not read much outside the tradition Anglo- American literature, but this year, I had planned to change that and this seems right up my alley for start into world literature.  I was sooooo hoping that the Spin would have spun me this one, but it did not and woe was me. But then I decided, that I really do not have to wait for the Classic Club spin, it is one of the books that I planned to read anyway and now is a good time as any!

Science and I have never been good friends – Newton was enough for me and I did not want to know more! But recently under the influence of several blogging inspirations, especially one, (Stefanie, I am so looking at you!) I began to wonder how bad it can get.  Therefore another tentative experiment was to get the much acclaimed and but never read by moi Stephan Hawkins “A Brief History of Time” and Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species”. I have already begun reading the first and I must say I am quite enjoying it and if Science and I had not been skeptical of each other’s abilities (especially the part where Science is skeptical of my abilities), I would have been more garrulous in my praise. But it’s early day in our relationship and we will see how things pan out. I had ordered Origin along with Brief, but Amazon delivered Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Humiliated and Insulted”; I am not sure how Origin is related to this or even in alphabetical stack rank Charles Darwin is way ahead of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but that’s Amazon for you. However they have promised to replace the book and I await the correction.

My final experiment is to read this very obscure historical fiction published in 1842 called “Windsor Castle” by William Harrison Ainsworth. The book apparently has Gothic overtones and traces Henry VII’s wooing of Anne Boleyn in the company of ghosts. It should be interesting at any case!

Naturally with such extensive experimental reading, I needed some comfortable fall back options; therefore I am also doing some re-reads – two well-loved books that I have not revisited for some time – Edward Rutherford’s “Sarum” and Robert Byron’s “The Road to Oxania”. The first is a work of historical fiction, a Michener style telling of the story of Salisbury, through 4000 years of history via the fictitious families that reside on these lands. The latter is considered a classic and one of the foremost travelogue of present day ; Robert Byron travels in the company of now infamous Christopher Sykes and through Iran and Afghanistan and documents some of the most beautiful architectural essay on the monuments of these lands, most of which no longer exist, thanks to hard working efforts of Taliban and other such groups!

That’s what my reading landscape for April looks like….I am really hoping that this would be a better reading month and I persevere again 😉

New Year and New Spins….

There is something called the self-fulfilling prophecy…these days I am becoming a staunch, absolutely staunch adherent to this thing. If you wish it, it will happen! I share with you a simple illustrative example – just last night, I was thinking it’s been ages since I participated in the Classic Club Spin read; after all this event is a good way to get me to read some of the stuff I dread! And lo! Behold! The first thing I see this morning when I open my system is that Classic Club is announcing their Spin#9. There is naturally no question of “not participating”.

The Spin rules are as always simple –

  • Pick 20 Classics of your choice
  • On Monday, i.e. April 6th, the Club will pick a number
  • You read the book that you have marked against the number by May 15th

And now for the list. In the spirit of things, I decided to make the list a little more challenging and listed 20 books I really kind of nervous taking up.

  1. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  3. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
  4. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  5. Daisy Miller by Henry James
  6. Washington Square by Henry James
  7. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  8. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  9. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  10. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  11. A Room with a View by M Forster
  12. Howard’s End by M Forster
  13. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  14. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  15. The House of Seven Gables by Nathanie Hawthorne
  16. Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
  17. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
  18. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márque
  19. Windsor Castle by William Harrison Ainsworth
  20. The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

That’s the list! And Now I sit, biting my nails till April 6th!!!

Come November, Come Books – A Spinning Update

Just when I thought, my reading plans toppleth over, Classic Club  decides to launch its last spin for the year….now how can I give that up???!!! Not that I do not have enough in my to-read list, I have now added one more. However going by my earlier post resolution, I have included only the books I really want to read/re-read! (It’s Christmas and I am allowed indulgence – so no books that I don’t want to read or books I am dreading reading and all that!) This is keeping in spirit with my December reading plan of  I-Will-not-finish-the-year-without-finishing-these-books-self-event.

The rules are as always simple and I quote verbatim from the site page –

  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.) (Like I said…I am kind of cheating on this one and reading only authors I want to read!!!!!)
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday.
  • Monday morning, Classic Club will announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books and select the book that corresponds to the number announced.
  • The challenge is to read that book by January 5, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading! (No fair not listing any scary ones!)

Here goeth my list –

  1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  2. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  5. Can You Forgive Her? By Anthony Trollope
  6. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  8. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
  9. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  10. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  11. Hamlet – William Shakespeare Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  12. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
  13. My Antonia by Willa Carther
  14. A Room with a View by E.M.Forster
  15. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
  16. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  17. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  18. The Beautiful and the Dammed by F.Scott Fitzgerald
  19. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
  20. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope

Phew! Finally!! There goes my list. I know I have repeated a few authors, but I can safely say, that I have not any of these works, so at least I strive in a new direction!!

And one more spin….

So the Classic Club has initiated another Classic Spin. The rules of course never change; same ol, same ol!
• Pick 20 Classics of your choice
• On Monday, i.e. Aug 19th, the Club will pick a number
• You read the book that you have marked against the number through August and September

Now the big question, will I do it again? I know the last time I was absolutely bowled over by Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation and was extremely grateful that the Spin had forced me to re-visit a book I was determined not to like since my first initiation with it at school. I loved the book as an adult and as everybody who visits the blog is aware, made me brave enough to venture forth to Bleak House. While all this is good, let’s not forget the lessons of the past and I had quite detested reading through Madam Bovary, my Classic Club Spin book for April and it reinforced all my first dislike for the book. The success rate is of course 50% and this one chance can heavily tilt the balance in favor of my future participation or non-participation in this activity!

Yes! I know! The nail baiting moment! The single instant in time on which the very direction of one’s life and destiny is to be decided!!! (Yes! I am aware that I am high on drama quotient!)

And the answer is – YES!!! (Yeah! I know! Big Surprise? What can we expect from an inveterate nerd???)
Let’s face it, the nerd bookish me loves books and a chance to offer a classic is like double chocolate icing on an ice cream cake! So how in the blazes could I let another such chance go? Besides, there is no denying that I am reading and redefining my opinions on books that I would not have otherwise touched!

This time I have decided to be a little more bold and adventurous and set forth in the brave new world! What that means in simple English is that this time to be free of all prejudices, I am listing books that I have never read and though I might have read other works of the author, the book listed below in themselves are complete uncharted waters!

So to the sound of rolling drums – here goes the Spin list
1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (I know I had listed this one as to read in July, but I never got around to it!)
3. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
4. Middlemarch by George Eliot
5. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí¬a Márquez
7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
8. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
10. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
11. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
12. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
13. King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
14. My Antonia by Willa Cather
15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
16. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
17. The Wings of Dove by Henry James
18. The Name of a Rose by Umberto Eco
19. A Room with a View by E.M Forster
20. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Let’s wait now for what faith decides on August 19th!

The Classic Attempt…..

This blog is completely inspired by The Classics Club ….I am not sure why I venture into these challenges, considering I fail most of the time….I mean I am not a person who really thrives on short notices or deadlines! I felt really weird writing the last sentence, I mean the other me – you know the ‘Project Manager’ me – the Corporate wheeler-dealer me,  really thrives and succeeds on deadlines and pressure tactics; in fact the tighter the leash, the better I will succeed. But when it comes to this me – you know the blogging-reading round the clock-with clueless love live-talking endless nonsense me, well, I just so badly fail. I could not complete the NaNoWriMo; I could not complete any of reading challenges, though as God be my witness, I read enough, so this me – the one I consider the real me, does not come out gloriously in these  events. So why do it again – like knowingly set yourself for a fall? Well I guess, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks – if there is a cliff, I will climb to the very top of it, only to fall head long!! Yeah! Yeah!! I know I will live through this!

Anyway after all the procrastination, I amble back to the main subject. So The Classics Club has a Spin list – what one does is, list 20 classics in a random order. They could be a list of books you love reading or never finished or dread starting. On Monday, 18th February, The Classics Club will announce a number – whatever number is declared, you read the book that you have marked against this number by April 1st 2013.  The ideal list is of course a mix of all the above – books you love, books you have been planning to read forever, but never got down to it and naturally, books that you absolutely dread and so on and so forth.

Therefore without any more ado, I present my list –

  1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  4. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  5. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  7. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  9. Great Expectation by Charles Dickens
  10. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  11. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  12. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  13. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  14. Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
  15. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  16. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  17. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  18. The Moonstone by Willkie Collins
  19. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  20. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell

I love Austen, Swift and really want to read Gaskell, Burgess and Collins. I shudder at the thought of Woolf or Eliot – never quite developed a taste for them. I have been planning to go back to Flaubert for some time – especially since my sister told me to read closely in the details, because apparently, the beauty of the book lies in those minute details. The same holds true of Anna Karenina – did not like it the first couple of times I read it, but since reading Stefanie’s thoughts on the book, I have been curious to give it another try, though War and Peace remains my favorite Tolstoy book and would love to go over it again!

To end, I am waiting with bated breath for the number draw – again, I wonder why I am doing this? But maybe this time because of the contest, I will have the patience to finish The Awakening and in my mind list, it would be one down! 😉