- 1920s: January - June 2016
- 1930s: July - December 2016
- 1940s: January - May 2017
- 1950s: May 2017 - January 2018
- 1960s: January - June 2018
While there were a few novels which I found quite enjoyable it was only a so-so decade overall. Island of the Blue Dolphins was my favorite, though Onion John and the High King were also quite nice.
I would say the overarching theme seems to be about accepting people as they are and that we're all different and often desire very different things. Onion John is a unusual man living on the fringe of the town of Serenity. He salvages things from the dump, he believes in folk remedies, evils spirits, and superstitions, eats onions like apples, and lives without running water or electricity. The narrator, Andy, befriends John primarily because Andy is the only person who can make out what John is saying in his garbled half-English. When Andy's dad visits John's house he notes the shabby state of things (which includes four bathtubs in the main room filled with beets and cabbages, onions and potatoes, church dust which he used as fertilizer, and newspapers which he used for wallpaper and kindling) he starts a town-wide charity campaign to build John a new house. The idea presented is that the town takes care of the city streets and John is just as much the community's responsibility. However, Onion John doesn't want to "live decently" like everyone else, though hardly anyone pays any attention to that. Onion John loves his "beautiful" bathtubs in the livingroom. He loves his old woodstove, not some fancy electric one. Onion John runs away he is so unhappy. Andy tries to go with him because he's not keen on his father's aspirations for him, but Andy's plans are thwarted by John himself. Eventually Andy convinces the town that making Onion John live like everyone else wasn't helping him--despite their best intentions. Andy's dad realizes that Andy is an individual, too, and can't just act out his own unattainable hopes and dreams. And so, things sort of go back to normal. I liked the story quite a lot.
This was one of my most beloved books in childhood. I couldn't tell you how many hours of backyard play were built around this story line--a young girl who loses everything and learns she is strong enough and smart enough to survive--and thrive--on her own. It ranks right up there with the Little House books in my estimation. The story is a fictionalized account of the life of The Lost Woman of San Nicholas. The fact the story was rooted in reality has always resonated with me, even if the details of her life are spotty. Island of the Blue Dolphins has a lot of elements that appeal to me. There is a strong, self-reliant female lead who's life is completely enmeshed with the patterns and gifts of the natural world. There are lots of descriptions of her making things by hand from a whale bone fence to a waterproofed basket to a cormorant feather skirt. She develops a close relationship with the mammals and birds of the island--they become her friends after all the years--and so she refuses to kill them, instead making due with fish instead of otter and kelp instead of sinew. Even as a little girl I was such a tenderheart when it came to animals. The story is filled with tragedy--murderous invaders, wild dog attacks, abandonment and isloation--but it ultimately a happy one. Karana's could have given up, but instead she made a life for herself. I just love this story.
I was initially quite eager to read this book since I'd enjoyed The Witch of Blackbird Pond so much. This one turned out to be considerably less up my alley, though it had a swell bleeding-heart-love-your-enemies-peacenik ending. Which is, of course, right up my alley. So, the book was okay, I suppose. It is the story of a young Jewish man named Daniel who hates the Romans because they've conquered his homeland and killed his father (by crucifixion, no less). He's vowed to devote his life to fighting against them--to the death--until every last Roman is driven away forever. And then he meets Jesus. Jesus is, it comes as no surprise to me, is saying and doing all sorts of great things throughout the book--though I don't know that I've ever read a book in which he is a contemporary character, walking and talking, except for the bible itself. Jesus urges the crowds around him to love their enemies because everyone is a child of God. This doesn't sit well with the observant Jews who believed there was a strict set of laws that must be followed to be a child of God. It also doesn't sit well with Daniel who hates the Romans with every ounce of his being. Initially skeptical because Jesus seems too peaceful, Daniel is ultimately convinced and makes a gesture of goodwill to the Roman soldier who had (much to Daniel's displeasure) befriended Daniel's invalid (or demon-possessed, depending on who you asked) sister. That was a rather touching way to close the story.
Jesus is constantly mobbed by people, is asked to "work" everywhere he goes to the point of exhaustion, and I actually felt quite bad for him. That would suck. He seemed tired and a little sad. He was also so full of peace and love it was just fantastic. (I kept calling him a hippie, in semi-jest, when relaying these bits to Matt.) Jesus would say things like, "...can't you see, Daniel, it is hate that is the enemy? Not men. Hate does not die with the killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger that hate is love," or "....the only chains that matter are fear and hate, because they chain our souls." I wish all people thought a little more like that, whether they want to call themselves Christians or not. I think it would do the world some good.
This was my first time reading A Wrinkle in Time though it has been on my To-Read list for some time now. I found it a really swell book. The story was filled with action, mystery, and suspense and I eagerly read on, awaiting the conclusion. There were some rather intellectually creepy elements, but nothing disturbingly violent. This is an ideal level of "scary" story for me. The Murry family is a smart bunch of folks--scientists, students, and savants. Mr. Murry is absent for much of the story, having disappeared while working on a secret government mission. A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of his rescue. This is no easy feat as he is in a different galaxy and being controlled by an evil entity--IT--bent on creating a rigid social order through mind control. Dystopian logic has always been dear to me. I find the rhetoric just astonishing. It is so often, oh well-intended, but in an absolutely twisted, horrible way, sacrificing the everyman for the Greater Good. The people of Camazotz are petrified of even the slightest deviation from expected cultural norms as individuality has been virtually eliminated and those that display it are subject to reconditioning until they fall into line. The children even jump rope and play ball in unison. The men march to work with an identical gait. They're a sort of brainwashed little human robots. "Differences create problems...Why do you think people get confused and unhappy? Because they all live their own separate, individual lives.... Camazotz is ONE mind....and that's why everybody's so happy and efficient....how dreadful it is to be low, individual organisms." It--or I should say, IT,-- is pretty dang insidious. The Murry children, with the help of their friend Calvin and some partially embodied spectral beings, take on the evil Black Thing and bring their father back home. Of course, this is just the first of five books in the Time series and so the story--while happily resolved in the short--are largely unresolved (and to be continued in the later books). I did read the subsequent two volumes in the quintet before losing interest and moving on elsewhere.
1964 - It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville
This Newbery winner was promising right off the bat since it has cats right in the title. It turned out pretty alright, too. Not a terribly dramatic tale, but sweet and simple and wonderfully dated. The story centers around a 14 year old boy named Dave and his adventures with his pet cat....who he named Cat. I find this name rather uninspired, but Matt jumps to Dave's defence since he once had a rabbit named Rabbit. Dave's father is always going on about his own childhood adventures with a dog named Jeff. Dave decides, "he can have his memories of good old Jeff and rabbit hunts, but I'm going to have me a tiger." Dave adventures all over the city on foot, bicycle, subway, and ferry. It is a little hard to imagine parents giving a teen such free-range latitude these days, but who knows. This was, apparently, the era of adults asking 14 year olds if they want a smoke so... Dave meets a troubled college-aged fellow named Tom who helps find a wayward Cat and is quickly integrated into Dave's life. Again, hard for me to really imagine since Tom is a college drop out who was recently arrested. He's a good guy at heart though and I was happy things work out for him in the end--with a little encouragement and support from Dave's father.
There were some rather hilariously out of date features to the story which I, of course, enjoyed thoroughly. For one Dave doesn't think Tom could be a burglar because he didn't say "dese and dose" like on TV. Oh, how that one cracked me up. He went on a date to see a new "picture" and was bummed to be seated in the children's section (under 16) where the matron supervised them and flashed a light in their eyes if they were to loud or getting into any hanky panky. Dave gets a "butch cut" instead of his "ducktail" haircut when he is trying to look in disguise. There are "commie" sightings, Dave feeling compelled to be the "Real American Boy" his father wants him to be, as well as Dave meeting his first ever "beatnik mother." I learned that "hickey" used to mean a pimple-type blemish, not just a blemish which results from aggressive kissing. He is also quite concerned with the logistics of who-pays-for-what in the dating world, which is interesting and in a lot of ways still very much the same. I'm not sure if this is sad or not. Dave likes spaghetti sandwiches, and it turns out, he is really on to something there.
I did not like this book. It is all about bullfighting and that is just something I do not appreciate in any way. I'm all for cultural history, but man, traditions that center around cruelty to animals and ubermachismo just do not sit well with me. There are plenty of ways to be brave and powerful without torturing a young animal who was bred just for that purpose for twenty minutes. Manolo's father was a famous bull fighter and nothing less is expected on Manolo. However, Manolo feels he is a coward and will never live up to the legend his father has become. In the end he realizes that he cannot do what everyone else wants him to do and must chase his own dreams. Manolo wants to be a doctor, not a fighter. So, that was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise at the end. I can certainly agree with the sentiment from the famous bullfight critic, Castillo, that "...you cannot confuse bravery or courage with lack of fear. Real courage, true bravery is doing things in spite of fear, knowing fear." That is totally true. I also learned that La Macarana is more than a silly dance song from my school years, who knew?! Though the two seem wholly unrelated.
1966 - I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
This was a nice story and loosely based in history. I quite enjoyed it and read it quickly. Juan is a slave who lives in Spain. He is fortunate enough, if you want to call it that, to have a Master who treats him very well--a master artist named Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez . Velázquez treats Juan like a human being, more or less, and Juan is happy with his status in life. In fact, he is proud to be part of the aristocracy, even if his part is that of a servant. He was suprisingly disdainful of common slaves. His Master is the court painter for the King of Spain and, eventually, the King's close friend. He even paints the Pope at one point. It is the painting that adds the drama to the story though. Juan wants to be a painter and is informed that it is illegal for slaves to practice the arts in Spain. This is the first time he fosters bitterness about his status. He starts to sketch and paint in secret. Of course, it cannot stay a secret forever.... When Juan's art is outed--Juan admits it in an act of contrition before both Velázquez and the King--his Master decides there is only one solution and grants Juan his freedom. It is only illegal for slaves to make art, not Africans. Juan goes on to become a dedicated partner and assistant to his former Master until his Velázquez's death. One of the sweet aspects of the story is Juan's relationship with the apprentice Bartolome who never treats him as a slave, but instead as a friend. The story concludes happily (given how many people die throughout the tale) with Juan moving back to Seville to work alongside the man with whom he had a "friendship...of the heart."
1967 - Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
This was an only-okay book. It follows a young girl over the course of her adolescence as she deals with love, loss, and finding herself--and realizes a passion for writing in the process. In an odd bit of storytelling the book includes her writing about the events of the book and sending it off for publication. It is a story-within-the-same-story sort of affair. The tale begins with the death of Julie's mother which prompts her dad to send Julie to live with an unmarried aunt--Aunt Cordelia-- who is a country school teacher. This is an unhappy arrangement for some time as Julie finds her aunt to be rather "inflexible." Cordelia finds Julie to be "headstrong" and "willful." But, they both change their tunes eventually and forge a deep relationship. So much so that by the end Julie doesn't want to leave her aunt behind to go off to college. Uncle Haskell, who lives in his own world, was probably my favorite character--though I'm not sure I'd say that if I spent any length of time with him in real life. He was a very interesting--and ultimately honorable--character. He, in a way, inspires Julie to become a writer. A fairly sizable subplot is Julie's mistreatment of a "retarded" girl in her class. Aggie is very poor and mistreated by her family in addition to her diminished mental capacity. Her's is a sad story. Julie hates her so much that she even opts to not have a birthday party at all when Aunt Cordelia insists that if she does Aggie will be invited. Eventually Julie sees the reality of Aggie's life and feels quite remorseful. Aunt Cordelia is good for Julie's moral compass and compassion towards others....even if she is rather rigid about things like doing the dishes or being nice to people. Ha!
Julie gets some pretty solid advice from a train conductor about not needing to be "in the number one" spot for all people. That just because you're someone's number two or three doesn't mean you're not important to them. This comes on the heels of Julie pitching a fit because her sister gets married and, as such, spends more time with her new husband than with Julie. Julie has two loves during the course of the story--one bad, one good. The first is a terrible fella who she stands by for far too long which made me reflect on a couple rather terrible boyfriends from my youth whom I, likewise, stood beside for far too long. There was some authenticity in the writing there.
There was a line that made me stop and sigh with appreciation: "Beautiful hours move so quickly." Ah, so they do!
The main character in this book is pretty dang annoying, but Claudia learns and grows as an individual along the way and is a better person for the experience depicted in the tale. Seriously though! She bugged the tar out of me. Feeling underappreciated by her family Claudia sets to run away. She invites her younger brother, Jamie, to join her basically because he is a saver and she is spender and she'd like to use his allowance nest-egg for her great escape. They hid out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art--sleeping in antique beds, stealing money out of the wishing fountain for expenses--and get sucked into a mystery surrounding a recently aquired angel statue which may or may not have been made by Michelangelo. Claudia, in particular, gets waaaaaaaaaay too wrapped up in the statue almost to the point of feeling ownership over it. This obsession eventually leads them to Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler, a rich, eccentric art collector who sold it to the Met for a pittance. She lets the children riffle through her unique filing system in search of proof that Angel really is a work of the master artist. They find their answer and Mrs. Frankwiler sends them home to their thankful parents. I was quite underwhelmed and glad when the story concluded.
The High King is the conclusion to the Chronicles of Prydain and the fifth volume of the saga. The author's introduction said it could be read as a stand-alone story though and so I skipped the first four books and jumped right in with book five. Unsurprisingly there were many instances where I knew a backstory was being alluded to and that my conception of the story was more limited than if I'd read the tale from the start. The whiny "former giant" Glew, being a keen example. He is very unhappy and complains endlessly about how things used to be "when I was a giant..." The High King never mentions how this giant-shrinking came to be--though the other main characters clearly have a history with Glew. Or as the good guys across the countryside rally together there was the line: "Faced with the common danger, the two rivals had put aside their quarrel. Goryon declined to take insult at Gast's every word, Gast refrained from giving offense to Goryon, and neither so much as mentioned cows." I must say, the cows thing intrigued me. I bet that was a funny little story in an earlier book. Oh well. Nothing critical.
The story centers around the classic battle of good versus evil. I've come to realize that is the basic plot of many a book, but especially in the fantasy realm. The book starts with the return of Taran from his wanders and adventures. He doesn't stay home long though as a magical sword has been stolen and war is upon the kingdom. A group sets out to take back the sword and slay the wicked Arwan once and for all. Of course, that involves all sorts of trials--including battling the "cauldron-born" (clearly I missed something big in The Black Cauldron), climbing snowy mountains, battling horrid bird-beasts, navigating dangerous underground passages, and more.
There is basically only one female character of note, but she is a pretty epic one. Eilonwy has has quite enough training to be a lady ("I was to gain wisdom on the Isle of Mona," put in Eilonwy. "That's why Dallben sent me there. All I learned was needlework, cooking, and curtsying.") and quickly and decisively inserts herself into the adventure---even when the men try to get her so stay out of harms way.
The bard is called Fflewddur Fflam, a name which pleases me to no end. He also has a harp where the string break if he lies. As he is a bit of an exaggerator this leads to some comedy. I wonder if the double F is because the author's name was Lloyd with a double L.
As has been my experience with other adventure sagas featuring dwarfs, wizards, lords, and the like the book was speckled with people saying deep, profound, or thought-provoking things about wisdom, nobility, love, loyalty, and the like.
"Of wisdom there are as many patterns as a loom can weave. Yours is the wisdom of a good and kindly heart. Scarce it is, and its worth all the greater." - Taliesin
"A grower of turnips or a shaper of clay, a Commot farmer or a king--- every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone." - Taran
"...evil cannot be conquered by wishing." - Dallben
"Once...you told me that the seeking counts more than the finding. So, too, must the striving count more than the gain." - Taran
|All photos from good times on the Rims.|
And on to the '70s!