Thursday, November 3, 2022

Let's Bust a Recap : Roald Dahl

A couple of years ago, my husband got me a colorful box set of sixteen of Roald Dahl's most loved children's books and thus began my journey of discovering the delight of Roald Dahl as a woman in my 30s. Children's lit is one of my favorite genres, and Matilda and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory were movies I watched over and over as a kid so I was excited to finally read the original words from one of the world's favorite authors for children. 

And thus far, I have not been disappointed. I started this venture reading The Twits and The Witches. Last year, I naturally selected Matilda and followed it with The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. This year, it was a no-brainer to read the Charlie books so today we'll be talking all about Charlie Bucket and Wonka's wonderful chocolate factory. 

We first meet Charlie Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was originally published in 1964. Charlie and his poor parents and both sets of his ancient grandparents are struggling to stay warm and fed in their tiny shack of a house when Willy Wonka announces that he is inviting five children to come see his amazing chocolate factory which no one has been inside of for years. Charlie manages to win the fifth and final Golden Ticket and the next day, he and Grandpa Joe are on the adventure of their lives touring Willy Wonka's incredible factory. 

This was such a fun book, and I was tremendously pleased that the movie I grew up loving seemed to follow it so well. The horrid children who won the other four Golden Tickets were portrayed perfectly on screen. I haven't seen the newer remake starring Johnny Depp. Is it worth it?

We pick right back up with Charlie Bucket in the 1972 sequel: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. To be honest, I had always assumed that they tried to squeeze this narrative onto the end of the movie I grew up watching because their ride in the Great Glass Elevator didn't quite seem to fit with the rest of the movie to me. But in fact, at the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they are riding in the Great Glass Elevator, and in this super-fun sequel, we pick right back up in that same elevator. Charlie, his parents, and both sets of grandparents soon find themselves on a zany adventure in space when the elevator shoots into orbit. They manage to make it back to the chocolate factory only to accidentally minus Grandma Georgina when she takes too much of Wonka-Vite, a formula Willy Wonka's been perfecting for years to make people younger. 

I loved this follow-up to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, maybe even more than the first book. I think I liked it so much because I had no idea what to expect and the outrageous situations this little band of people found themselves in were so imaginative and wild and the solutions were clever. The Witches is still holding as my favorite Dahl book so far, but Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator is a very close second. 

Next year, I'm pretty set on reading James and the Giant Peach and The BFG, but if you'd like to recommend a different favorite, I'm all ears! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Pumpkin Carving 2022

Guess what time it is? That's right. Time for our annual pumpkin carving post. And let me tell y'all, this year—and the last few months in particular—have been so busy that it almost didn't happen in time for Halloween. I was in Florida last week for a wedding, and when I got home, I was hoping to carve our pumpkins on Sunday because I was 100% positive that Sunday was, in fact, Halloween. Seriously. I would have bet you good American money that yesterday was November 1st. So I was trying to figure out how to carve like, a turkey or a cornucopia or something Thanksgiving-y into my pumpkin (because we can't throw the whole tradition out just because we're a day late) when my sister-in-law called me and helpfully reminded me that it wasn't November yet. 
So after Cody was done with work yesterday and we'd had a super-yummy dinner, we found our pumpkin carving tools (no small feat in our recently moved into basement) and kept our Halloween pumpkin carving tradition alive. And since I mentioned it: we carved our pumpkins in the basement of our sixth (and hopefully last because I never want to move again) home-sweet-home together. 
I like him.
It's becoming one of my favorite parts of this tradition to look back at all our pumpkins of years past and reminisce about where we were and what was going on in life that year. This year, we had a lot going on. We bought our second home and moved for the second time in a six-month period. We joined our church in North Carolina. I quit my job delivering packages for amazon and started watching a baby boy from church a couple days a week. Cody traveled most of the summer for work and also went on a missions trip to the Republic of Georgia. We {semi}renovated our basement and moved the rest of our stuff into our house (which felt like the third move in the span of a year and a half). It's been wild, but it's been good, and I'm thankful to God for all His good gifts to us and that I'm still carving pumpkins with this guy eleven years later. 
This year, Cody picked up a couple of jumbo pumpkins from Ingles and we kept it simple with some classic jack-o'-lantern faces. I think these are the biggest pumpkins we've ever gotten!
Happy Halloween or November 1st or Thanksgiving Day, for all I know! 
I hope you're enjoying the sweet things wherever you are. 

October 31, 2022

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Let's Bust a Recap : The House of the Seven Gables

Ok, so The House of the Seven Gables was our book club book for the month of July, and I'm just going to say right off the bat that this is NOT a July book. I don't know how much importance you place on the seasons when you're reading, but atmosphere is huge for me, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Dark Romanticism is not a summertime author. 

But the book club decreed that this would be the book for July so at the end of July/beginning of August, there I was, struggling through Hawthorne's 1851 offering about this old haunted mansion in New England.

I actually wasn't dreading it. I knew July probably wasn't the best time to read The House of the Seven Gables, but The Scarlet Letter is one of my all-time favorite classics and I'd had Hawthorne's follow-up novel on my shelf for years waiting to be read. 

I'll just go ahead and tell you now: it wasn't great. It wasn't bad, and maybe if I had read it during the winter by a cozy fire, it might have garnered a more favorable review, but as it stands: I'll probably never revisit this one.

In The House of the Seven Gables, we're introduced to old Hepzibah Pyncheon who has been living alone in poverty in our titular House, and who—to her immense mortification—has finally resorted to opening a little shop in the House to support herself. Hawthorne opens his novel by giving us a never-ending brief history of the House and the Pyncheon family so by the time we meet Hepzibah, we know that the Pyncheons are cursed and the House of the Seven Gables is supposedly haunted. 

Throughout the course of this slow narrative, we meet the young and vibrant Phoebe Pyncheon (who comes to live with old Hepzibah and who breathes new life into the house), Clifford Pyncheon (Hepzibah's brother who also comes back to live with her after getting out of jail for murder—and who I legitimately thought was an actual ghost for a while), Holgrave (the boarder living in part of the House), and Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon (who we eventually learn set up Clifford for the murder he didn't commit). The main thrust of the plot is the reckoning between the three elder Pyncheons (Hepzibah, Clifford, and Judge Jaffrey) over Clifford's wrongful 30-year imprisonment, but man, we go through a lot of history to get to the point. 

And here's the thing: it really wasn't bad. Hawthorne is a masterful writer and one of my favorite aspects of The House of the Seven Gables in particular was the way he could paint a portrait of a character and without telling you how to feel about the character, he intrinsically made you feel a certain way about that character. His use of subtle sarcasm is absolutely superb, and his humor is biting. I'd recommend this book for the masterclass it is in writing alone.

But for all the good writing in the world, it was slow. I mean, good-luck-staying-awake, bless-you-if-you-can-finish-it, drink-all-the-coffee, thick-molasses-in-January SLOW. Getting through an entire chapter without falling asleep felt like a small victory, and it took me over three weeks to read it. (And it's not very long.) I think I was the only person in our book club who finished it. If you're going to pick this one up, adjust your expectations accordingly and settle in for the journey, because this one is a marathon—not a sprint. 

I saved a ton of quotes from The House of the Seven Gables and maybe one day when things settle down a bit, I'll share them here. All in all, this one is a take it or leave it. I wouldn't enthusiastically recommend it, but I wouldn't not recommend it either. I personally think The Scarlet Letter is loads better and would tell you to start there with Hawthorne, but The House of the Seven Gables was good too. Just not great. And don't try to read it in the middle of summer. 

Are you a seasonal reader? What's one of your favorite classics to read in the autumn?

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Let's Bust a Recap : Antony and Cleopatra

Oh boy, time for more Shakespeare. This year's tragedy was Antony and Cleopatra, and I think next year we're going to hit either our re-read of Julius Caesar or Romeo and Juliet because I've had a tough time with the last two tragedies I've read, and I need next year's to be a winner. But we'll circle back to this at the end of today's post. 

So Antony and Cleopatra...where to begin? We open our play to learn that Antony has got it bad for Cleopatra and has neglected all his responsibilities to be at her beck and call 24/7. Like, he's off sleeping with Cleopatra in Alexandria and letting Rome go to pot and not caring two figs that his wife Fulvia died after rebelling against Octavius. 

But Octavius is all, "Enough of that. You need to get it together and come help me put down some pirates that are wreaking havoc around here." Naturally, Cleopatra doesn't want her boy-toy to leave her, and we get a lot of angsty back and forth between her and Antony about him leaving. 

But he does, in fact, leave.

He meets up with Octavius and Lepidus (the two other guys in charge of Rome), and they agree to set aside their differences to deal with the pirates. While everyone's feeling good about each other, Octavius' general Agrippa suggests Antony should marry Octavius' sister to keep everybody friendly. 

This is obviously a terrible idea, but of course, they do it because Antony has no qualms about being monogamous or anything ridiculous like that. Enobarbus (Antony's right hand man) is the only one who sees the absolute trainwreck that is about to ensue because he knows there's no way Antony is giving up what he has with Cleopatra, and he famously details Cleopatra's irresistible charms saying:

        "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
        Her infinite variety: other women cloy
        The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
        Where most she satisfies."

Then we have a scene with a soothsayer who warns Antony that he will for sure lose if he ever tries to fight Octavius which is important because foreshadowing

Meanwhile, back in Egypt, Cleopatra finds out about Antony's marriage to Octavia and she throws a royal hissy fit wherein all her lackeys assure her that she is gorgeous and Octavia is garbage. Which calms her down. Not in time to save the messenger from some serious abuse, but who cares about him, right?

Then we have a big confusing mess wherein Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus (the three guys in charge of Rome, remember?) end up not fighting the pirates and making a deal with Pompey (one of the pirates) that he can keep his land as long as he flips on the other pirates and also he has to send tributes to them. To which the other pirates are all, "Bro, why don't you just wreck these guys and take over Rome?" But Pompey's all, "Nah, that wouldn't be cool." And then there's this big drunken party, but then Octavius and Lepidus (without Antony's knowledge or approval) attack Pompey anyway. 

So why did we even just go through all that?

Antony heads back to Alexandria and crowns himself and Cleopatra as rulers of Egypt and his share of Rome and also complains to Octavius that he owes Antony more land from his recent war with Pompey. Oh, and he's not happy that Octavius kicked Lepidus out of the triumvirate and threw him in jail.
 
You see what's happening, right? Too many cooks in the kitchen.

Octavius is like, "You go ahead and be king of Egypt, but that's it, kiddo." To which Antony is like, "It's go time, son."

So they're gearing up for a showdown, and Antony's people are like, "You will lose at sea; fight on land." But Antony's all, "Octavius dared me to fight at sea, and I'm no sissy." And Cleopatra chimes in with, "My whole navy is yours."

But then they go to battle and Cleopatra runs away with her fleet of ships and Antony follows her leaving all his men behind to get slaughtered. Which he's a little embarrassed about, but hey, the kisses of Cleopatra are worth it.

Yikes, bro.

Octavius ends up sending a messenger to Cleopatra asking her to give up Antony, and she starts FLIRTING WITH THE MESSENGER which, naturally, Antony walks in on. He rages for about two seconds and then forgives her and promises to fight another battle for her, this time on land.

At this point, Enobarbus who is pretty much the only guy that's been unreservedly #TeamAntony this whole play is finally like, "I'm out." And heads over to Octavius' side. But Antony just gathers all Enobarbus' stuff and sends it to him with a "No hard feelings, my man." Which kills Enobarbus because he's so ashamed of his own disloyalty. Literally. He dies.

Antony loses the battle. (Foreshadowing, remember?) And then he has a major temper tantrum and swears off Cleopatra because this is all obviously her fault and only hers.

Cleopatra decides that the way to win Antony back is to send a message to him that she killed herself, dying with his name on her lips. So she goes and locks herself up in her tower and waits for him to come rushing back to her.

Bad move, sis.

When Antony gets the message, he decides his life isn't worth living anymore and he begs his boy Eros to kill him. But Eros won't do it, and instead kills himself. Which Antony thinks is just the most honorable and brave thing he's ever seen so he tries to kill himself too. 

Except he's an idiot and only manages to mortally wound himself. 

So he's sitting there bleeding out when he finds out Cleopatra isn't even dead. They hoist him up to her in her little tower and he dies in her arms.

Is it over? Not yet.

Cleopatra has now been placed under a Roman guard since Egypt has been defeated by Octavius and she tries to kill herself, but the guard gets the dagger away from her in time. Octavius shows up and is all, "No worries, we're going to treat you right." But one of Octavius' own men is like, "Nah, sis, he is going to parade you around like a caged animal." 

So then we get a lot of Cleopatra being bitter, envisioning her humiliating life under the rule of Octavius. And then she pulls a poisonous asp out of her basket and kills herself by having it bite her. Her two servants die too. Octavius finds them all there and feels kinda bad. But not really all that bad because now he's free to become the first Roman emperor aka take over the world. So he gives her a nice funeral. The end. 

I mean, holy moly. I think we all know that Shakespeare is the king of dysfunctional relationships, but Antony and Cleopatra take it to the next level. They are equally screwed up, and it's wild. This play was difficult to get through just because there's sooo much jumping around. All Shakespeare's plays were obviously meant to be seen on the stage, but this one in particular needs to be seen acted out, not just read in my living room with me trying to keep track of where everyone is and who's loyal to who. Antony and Cleopatra has one of Shakespeare's biggest casts and keeping everyone in line gets a little tricky. I was constantly flipping back to the cast list to figure out who was who.

That being said, this one was way better than Troilus and Cressida and I would recommend giving it a go with the caveat that it would be best read in as few sittings as possible so you're not lost every time you come back to it. Which is really true of all Shakespeare's plays if we're being honest. 

Anyway, circling back to the beginning of this post, I think next year I'll be reading Romeo and Juliet. My ultimate goal is to read Shakespeare's entire body of work. I read Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar in high school and thoroughly enjoyed them both, but when I undertook to read all of Shakespeare, I decided that I would re-read those as an adult as part of this undertaking. I've been saving them for when I need a win, and I think the time has come. We're officially down to six comedies and six tragedies, so let's just keep this train rollin'! 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Let's Bust a Recap : Present Concerns

And speaking of our favourite 20th century Brits (which we were on Tuesday, in case you missed it) let's talk about our C.S. Lewis selection for 2022. 

C.S. Lewis gets an automatic slot on my book list every single year. Last year, I didn't really make much of a list and decided to let my whims guide my reading. And horror of horrors, I didn't end up reading anything by C.S. Lewis. And his literary presence was sorely missed. 

But this year, we're back on track and I read this collection of essays that was published posthumously in 1986. 

(Sidebar: I've gotten in the habit of photographing my C.S. Lewis books with a hot beverage because it just seems appropriate, and I thought it was very clever—and aesthetically pleasing in this particular instance—to photograph Present Concerns with a cuppa from Starbucks. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

Anyway, moving on. Present Concerns includes nineteen essays that reveal his thoughts about democratic values, threats to educational and spiritual fulfillment, literary censorship, and more, demonstrating Lewis' wide range of interests and his absolute mastery in conveying his thoughts through the written word. These essays were originally published in various newspapers, magazines, and books between the years 1940 and 1962, and were compiled and introduced in this book by Walter Hooper. I couldn't have chosen a more fitting title for this collection. Though the topics Lewis discusses in these essays were obviously timely for their original audience, they were just as relevant in 1986 when this slim volume was published and continue in their applicability today. 

As is always the case, I was once again impressed with Lewis' ability to communicate his thoughts in the simplest language even while articulating some of the most profound ideas I've ever read. The man was just so dang smart and I always feel like such a dunce when I'm recapping his books because my sentences seem so lame in comparison. Of the nineteen essays included in Present Concerns, there were only two that I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend: "The Empty Universe" (while I had a vague grasp on his main point, this one was just a bit over my head) and "Interim Report" (which was an article for The Cambridge Review comparing Oxford and Cambridge, neither of which I have much firsthand knowledge of). Two of the essays that particularly stood out to me were "Three Kinds of Men" (in which I felt like old Jack proceeded to kick me in the gut, but then followed up with a pat on the back and a, "No worries, chap, I'm in the same boat as you.") and "Talking About Bicycles" (mind blown; just read it). 

All in all, another triumph from one of my all-time favorite authors. I really appreciate the people like Walter Hooper who took it upon themselves to compile these essays into books because they're turning out to be some of my favorite of Lewis' work. I saved a few quotes from this one that I'm sure I'll share on here someday. In the meantime, what C.S. Lewis book should go on next year's book list?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Let's Bust a Recap : The Inimitable Jeeves

Ah, yes, I've finally been properly introduced to Bertie and Jeeves—two of P.G. Wodehouse's most popular characters—and it was a hoot. Due to the fact that Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century and I pride myself on being a bookworm, I was aware of his work. But I'd be lying if I didn't credit Rory Gilmore with being one of the motivating factors for adding Wodehouse to my LIFE LIST. Now, I'm not one of these Gilmore Girls diehards that have decided to read every single book mentioned or seen on the show (lists have been compiled), but I watch the show often enough that every time I hear Rory telling Richard during her sophomore year at Yale that she's "very into Wodehouse right now", I mentally remind myself that I really need to get around to Wodehouse myself sooner or later.

Well, 2022 was the year I finally got around to him, and now he'll be popping up on my book lists for the next twelve years, because I have added ALL the Wooster and Jeeves books to my library and this first foray into his work provided a side-splitting good time. This first installment—well, I guess technically the second installment, but I don't want to get into all that right now—was published in full in 1923, but it pulls together short stories that were published between 1918 and 1922 so all things considered, I ended up reading this barrel of laughs right as it's coming up on its 100th anniversary of entertaining readers. 

In The Inimitable Jeeves we are introduced to our fashionable young Londoner and indolently wealthy Bertie Wooster and his all-knowing valet Jeeves. Throughout the course of the novel which is actually just a series of short stories strung together, Bertie gets roped into helping his hopelessly romantic friend Bingo Little who can't help falling in love with every girl he sees. And when I say Bertie gets roped into helping Bingo, I ultimately mean Jeeves gets roped into helping them both, because Bertie cannot possibly function without Jeeves' always correct advice, and when he attempts to solve a problem on his own, he inevitably makes the situation worse and needs Jeeves to fix it anyway. 

And it's hilarious. I literally laughed out loud at some point during every single episode Bertie found himself in, and my very favorite bits were Jeeves' insistence about Bertie's proper attire and Bertie's equal stubbornness over wanting to wear the most ridiculous things. Which always resulted in the inescapable result of Jeeves being right and Bertie getting rid of the article in question. They're a riot.

As my sister-in-law Caroline would say (and once again, she has endorsed an absolute winner), Wodehouse's books are the perfect literary palate cleanser, and you can be sure the next volume in my collection—Carry On, Jeeves—will be on next year's book list.  Definitely would recommend a Wodehouse for anyone who needs a laugh. 

Have you read anything by P.G. Wodehouse?

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Let's Bust a Recap : Dear Emmie Blue

Okay, so on Monday we talked about A Man Called Ove which was my book club's book of the month for August. Today, we're talking about Dear Emmie Blue which was my book club's book of the month for last August. Oy vey. We're getting caught up around here, but it's a process.

Dear Emmie Blue by UK author Lia Louis was published just a couple summers ago in 2020. It was generally well-received, but for some reason it didn't quite hit the mark for me.

At the outset, we meet Emmie who is meeting up with her best friend Lucas because he has something important to ask her. Emmie, who has been secretly in love with Lucas for six years, thinks he's finally going to admit he has feelings for her as well and ask her out. The bombshell: he's proposed to his ex-girlfriend and wants Emmie to be his "best woman" at their wedding. Obvious devastation ensues. Of course, Emmie says yes—she can never say no to Lucas—but that means a lot of painful involvement in getting her unrequited love ready to walk down the aisle to share his life with another woman. It also means she has to spend quite a bit of time with Eliot, Lucas' older brother, with whom she had a serious falling out eleven years prior over a devastating betrayal of trust. All of this comes together in a sweet package of what it means to navigate relationships—not just romantic ones!—in a healthy way in life.

All the elements were there to make for a great book, but they somehow didn't add up for me. I liked Louis' ability to seamlessly tease Emmie's past circumstances in a way that felt slightly mysterious and kept you reading while still moving the story forward. I thought her writing style was funny and easy to read. And her insertion of text conversations and mixed CD playlists served the story well instead of being clunky as they sometimes have a tendency to be in other things I've read.

But, the actual development of relationships was sorely lacking. Hurtful choices made my different characters—particularly Lucas—seemed to just magically work themselves out with no real consequences or communication. While I could go with Louis' setup of different conflicts throughout the novel, very few were resolved realistically. I was left at the end of the book with a lot more questions than answers. 

On top of that, Emmie's friend Rosie, who is most certainly written for a bit of comic relief, was over-the-top crass which was the final nail in the coffin for keeping me from recommending this book. 

Overall, I enjoyed reading Dear Emmie Blue and it's staying on my shelf for now, but it ultimately fell flat for me and I wouldn't recommend it.