Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Ten Favorite Books of 2015

I did a post like this last year, and it was a lot of fun, so I thought hey, why not do another?  I reviewed 45 books this year, by my very casual count, and I read probably 4 or 5 others that I never reviewed (two that I do intend to review soon, just haven't gotten to them yet).  I'm once again astonished by that number, especially since for the last couple months, I've barely read anything other than Hamlet, or so it feels. 

Anyway,  like last year, I'm breaking it into new-to-me and re-reads.

New to Me

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery -- I was blindsided by how much I loved this book.  I made my mom read it this week while she was visiting me.  

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster -- I was also shocked to discover I liked this better than Daddy-Long-Legs, which made last year's list of favorites.

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz -- so many amazing insights into Austen's books.  I want to re-read this one in a few years while also reading through all Austen's novels.

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle -- I can't believe it took me this long to finally decide to read this book.  A pure and lovely delight.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell -- despite the rushed ending, it is a gorgeous, complex story filled with amazing characters.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd -- at one point, my son and I were sitting on the swing in our backyard, him reading the first pages while I was reading the last ones.  He loves it like I do, and we gave it to a friend for Christmas too.


The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum -- simply a superb spy story.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows -- funny and poignant and charming.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare -- do I have to talk again about how much I adore this play?  Probably not.

Persuasion by Jane Austen  -- I loved participating in Heidi's read-along for this, my favorite Jane Austen novel.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" by William Shakespeare

You'd think I'd have nothing left to say about this play after spending nearly three months discussing it.  And, in a way, you'd be right -- I'm not going to say anything new or revelatory here.  But I'd like to kind of recap a few of my thoughts from this reading.

This time through, I particularly noticed how focused this play is on the difference between seeming and being.  Obviously, I've long known this is a major theme in Hamlet, but this time so many lines jumped out at me as reinforcing that idea.  From Hamlet's "Seems, Madam?  Nay, it is.  I know not 'seems'" (I, 2) to Claudius' "Or are you, like a painting of a sorrow, A face without a heart?" (IV, 7), it felt like every character was reminding me time and again to take a good look at appearances versus reality, acting/pretending versus being, truth versus deception, honesty versus intrigue.

No matter how often I read this play or see it performed, I always find some new nuances or details that help me see it in a fresh way.  I've been studying it for 18 years, and it never gets stale.  Amazing!

If you want to read some of my other posts on this play, this post has links to all the individual scene posts I did.  And don't forget to enter the Hamlet giveaway here!  It's open through the end of Monday, January 4th.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for sexual themes and violence.

This is my 30th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club!

"Hamlet" Read-Along Index and Link-Up

Here are the links to all the individual scene posts and bonus posts from the Hamlet read-along. At the end of this post is a link-up if you would like to share your own blog post (or posts) about the play.

Bonus Posts

The Hamlets I Have Seen -- Hamlette
All my Hamlets -- Hamlette
Horatio -- Kelda
The Soliloquies -- Kelda
Some Hamlet fun -- Hamlette

Scene Posts

Act I
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4
Scene 5

Act II
Scene 1
Scene 2 -- Part One
Scene 2 -- Part Two

Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4

Act IV
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4
Scene 5 -- Part One
Scene 5 -- Part Two
Scene 6
Scene 7

Act V
Scene 1 -- Part One
Scene 1 -- Part Two
Scene 2 -- Part One
Scene 2 -- Part Two

The link-up!  

If you wrote a review of Hamlet after you finished it, or wrote about individual scenes, please share your posts here:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The "Hamlet" giveaway

We have finished Hamlet at last!  I feel a great sense of accomplishment, don't you?  (And if you haven't quite finished it, no big deal.  I'm happy to keep discussing it as long as you'd like.)  To celebrate, I'm hosting a giveaway, as is my wont at the end of read-alongs.  

PLEASE NOTE:  This is open to everyone!  Not just participants of the read-along :-)

Here's what I'm giving away:

Hamlet (2000) starring Ethan Hawke
It plays fine for me, but your mileage may vary.

Hamlet at Elsinore (1964) starring Christopher Plummer
Donated by Kelda!  Brand-new.

Hamlet (1996) soundtrack by Patrick Doyle

Sticker Set 1
Bought from by me.

Sticker Set 2
Bought from by me.

Sticker Set 3
Bought from by me.

I know we are all really busy with Christmastime merriment right now, so I'm leaving this giveaway open for two weeks instead of my usual one.  That way people will have plenty of time to get around to entering.  So this runs through the end of Monday, January 4th. I will draw the winners on Tuesday, January 5th and post the names of the winners that day, as well a notify them by email.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widget includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get the email informing you that you won! If you don't reply to my email by Tuesday, January 12, I will choose another winner and award your prize to them instead.

This giveaway is open worldwide!  However, the DVDs are Region 1 encoded, so you will either need to live in the USA or Canada, or have a region-free player for them to work.

Enter via this widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hamlet Read-Along: Act V, Scene 2 -- Part Two

This final part of Hamlet suffers the most in being read versus seen.  The fight and the various characters' actions and emotions really need to be seen to be truly appreciated.  I've never yet been moved to tears by reading this scene, but I regularly cry when watching it.  So here is this half of the scene from the David Tennant version (2010), if you'd like to watch it and see how this particular production has it all play out.

Anyway, I find it interesting that Hamlet blames his actions on madness when he's apologizing to Laertes.  Does Hamlet truly believe he's been mad for a while?  Do any of the other characters?  Does Laertes?  I don't know.  I do love the end of Hamlet's apology, though, the part where he says, "I have shot my arrow o'er the house And hurt my brother" (212-13).  That part definitely feels sincere.

So then they fence a while.  Laertes has the "unbated" foil, that is, the actually sharp sword that doesn't have anything protecting the tip.  And of course it's poisoned too.  Claudius brings out his poisonous "union," aka a pearl, and poisons the wine with it.  But Hamlet won't drink -- he wants to stay sharp, I think.  Who wouldn't, ringed around by bad guys as he is?  

And then Gertrude drinks the poison.  Different productions play this different ways -- does she know it's poisoned and drink in an effort to save her son?  Does she realize he was right about Claudius and not want to live on with such a bad guy as her husband?  Does she have zero idea that it's poisoned?  Lots of different ways to play it, each with really cool insights into her character to be had.  

A couple scenes ago, Claudius claimed that he basically can't live without Gertrude.  So the way he says his line, "Gertrude, do not drink" (265) can really tell us whether he was being truthful then or not.  Does he say it desperately?  Resignedly?  Angrily?  It can be so revelatory.

Of course, we return again to that idea of being caught in your own trap.  Laertes says, "I am justly killed with mine own treachery" (284) and also, "The foul practice Hath turned itself on me" (295).  Claudius gets killed by both the poisoned sword and the wine he poisoned, and Gertrude basically gets caught in her own trap when she dies of poison set out by the man she married after he poisoned her first husband.  She, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, may have been initially unwitting of the nature of her actions, of course.  And obviously Hamlet, by seeking vengeance for his father, has vengeance served against him for things he did during that quest.

As Hamlet dies, he echoes his father's ghost.  Horatio tries to commit suicide, to follow his friend into the grave the way Roman soldiers would follow their leader when he died.  But Hamlet tells Horatio not to die just yet, but to "[r]eport me and my cause aright To the unsatisfied" (315-16).  In fact, just like the Ghost asked him to listen to his tale "[i]f ever thou didst they dear father love" (I, 5, 23), Hamlet asks Horatio to do this "[i]f thou didst ever hold me in your heart (322).  Striking similarity, eh?

And after Hamlet dies, in comes Fortinbras.  John Gielgud says, "All the people in the play are shut up in this castle... There is this curious feeling, except on the battlements and in the churchyard, that they are all really locked in the castle, in a miasma of corruption and sensuality.  It isn't until Fortinbras comes at the end that the whole thing opens and all are free (John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet p. 17).  I really like that insight, that in the end, it's Fortinbras who frees the Danish people from this sickness of corruption and duplicity that has poisoned the castle's inmates.

Favorite Lines:

"I am more antique Roman than a Dane" (317).

"The rest is silence" (334).

"Now cracks a noble heart.--Good night, sweet Prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" (335-36).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Well, what did you think of it?

So.  We've finished it.  Yay?  Yay for us, anyway.  Thanks so much for taking this journey with me!  I think this is my favorite read-along that I've led thus far.

Of course, if you haven't quite finished reading it yet, please feel free to continue commenting and discussing this on your own time here!  I'm going to start up a giveaway today, and in the next day or two I'll be posting a link-up for anyone who might want to share their own blog posts about Hamlet, like if you're reviewing it for the Classics Club or what have you.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act V, Scene 2 -- Part One

This is it, the final scene.  Once again, I'm splitting it into two posts, so this post is about lines 1 through 195.

It opens quietly, calmly.  Gielgud says, "This scene must start in a light mood, as if it's the beginning of a new play with a different color.  It should have a reckless curiosity, with a great charm and sweetness.  Hamlet has resolved all his problems" (John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet (72).  And I think it really feels that way, sort of peaceful and calm after all the angsty drama that came before.

We start with Hamlet telling Horatio how he discovered Claudius' murderous plot and subverted it.  That "hoist with his own petard" theme comes in again -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get killed because they agreed to escort Hamlet to his death.  We also come back to the idea of Laertes as a foil for Hamlet.  For Hamlet not only tells Horatio that he's sorry he fought with Laertes, but adds, "by the image of my cause I see The portraiture of his" (76-77).  

Anyway, in comes Osric.  Shall I make a confession?  I can't stand Osric.  In every version I've ever seen, he makes me cringe, and I want to shoo him off the stage.  And of course, he's supposed to make me feel that way, I'm well aware of that.  Doesn't mean I have to like him, though.  He's a perfect caricature of empty, meaningless talking meant to flatter and please.  Blech.  I do get a kick out of lines 96-103, though, when Hamlet mocks him by speaking similarly.  And Horatio and Hamlet's snarky asides to each other are pretty funny.  But still, I can't stand Osric.

I probably also dislike Osric because he comes to tell Hamlet about the proposed fencing match between him and Laertes, which we all know is A Treacherous Plot.  And Hamlet agrees to it.  He obviously knows it's A Treacherous Plot of some sort, because he says, "Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart" (185), but dismisses it as a weak nervousness.  Horatio urges him to follow these instincts and delay the fencing match.  But Hamlet refuses.  As Harold Bloom puts it, "Their plot, absurd and messy, would fool no one except that the Hamlet of Act V wishes to make an end, and will accept any Claudian wager, whatever the odds" (64).  I concur.

Hamlet has accepted that, at some point, he is going to die, and he's done struggling against the inevitable.  Whether he dies right now or when he's an old man, it's going to happen.  He's decided that "[t]he readiness is all" (194).  That's my favorite line in this whole play, by the way.  If I ever got a tattoo, that's what it would say.  

We'll stop here for today, teetering on the brink.

Favorite Lines:

"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will" (10-11).

"If it be now, 'tis not to come.  If it be not to come, it will be now.  If it be not now, yet it will come.  The readiness is all" (192-94).

Possible Discussion Questions:

When Hamlet says that the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not weigh heavily on his conscience, Horatio says, "Why, what a king is this!" (61).  Do you think he means Hamlet, and what a king he could be, or Claudius, and what he's doing as king?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act V, Scene 1 -- Part Two

Okay, yes, I realize I didn't exactly divide this scene in half.  But hey, that means you only had 80 lines left to read for this second post.  Anyway, poor Hamlet, discovering this way that Ophelia has died.  He didn't even know she'd gone crazy, unless Horatio clued him in while they were heading back to Elsinore.  But I think if he had, Hamlet wouldn't have been so cheerful earlier in this scene, and he definitely wouldn't have been so surprised when he figured out who was getting buried here.

You know I like that Hamlet calls Laertes "a very noble youth" (204), so I won't belabor that.  So instead I will point out that it was Claudius who commanded that Ophelia be buried in consecrated ground and with at least some Christian rites.  Good for Claudius.  Maybe he's trying to make up for the secretive way he had Polonius buried?

So then Laertes speechifies a while about how much he hates Hamlet, and how dear Ophelia was to him.  Which makes Hamlet hop out of hiding and make a few declarations himself.  And not just about how he loved Ophelia more than any brother ever could, but did you notice how he calls himself "Hamlet the Dane" (239)?  That's pretty much a direct challenge to Claudius.  "The Dane" means "the #1 Dane," as in "I am by rights the king."  He's pretty much done with subtlety, I'd say.  (Also, that's the line I get the long version of my handle from:  Hamlette the Dame.)

So anyway, Hamlet and Laertes slug it out a while.  I love the stage direction there.  It's very simple and direct:  They fight.  After they fight, both Gertrude and Claudius try to convince Laertes and everyone else that Hamlet's just mad, no big, please ignore him.  And Horatio gets sent to watch over him, just like they told him to watch over Ophelia.  Guess everyone pretty much trusts him, huh?

And we end with Claudius assuring Laertes that their little Plot To Kill Hamlet By Any Treacherous Means Necessary is still totally on.  Nice.  (Insert grumpy face here.)

Favorite Lines:

"Couch we awhile and mark" (204).

"I tell thee, churlish priest,
A ministering angel shall my sister be
When thou liest howling" (221-223).

"Who is he whose grief 
Bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow
Conjures the wandering stars and makes them stand
Like wonder-wounded hearers?  This is I,
Hamlet the Dane" (235-239).

"Yet have I in me something dangerous" (243).

"What is the reason that you use me thus? 
I loved you ever" (272-73).

"Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew, and dog will have his day" (274-75).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Hamlet says, "I loved Ophelia" (252).  Do you think he truly did? 

Why do you think Hamlet got so upset over seeing Laertes grieving over Ophelia?

Do you think anyone actually believes Hamlet to be mad by this point?

Quick note:  I will be hosting a giveaway to celebrate our finishing the whole play!  It will last extra long because I know a lot of people are really busy over the holidays and don't have a lot of computer time :-)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"The Quiet Little Woman" by Louisa May Alcott

The cover of this book says The Quiet Little Woman:  A Christmas Story, but it actually contains a novella and two short stories.  According to the introduction by Stephen W. Hines, Louisa May Alcott wrote all of them for a family of five girls who started their own little newspaper, much like the March girls in Alcott's novel Little Women.  This set of sisters didn't just share their paper with each other, though -- they got people to subscribe to it and earned money with their efforts.  Alcott applauded their initiative and sent them stories to publish as a way to encourage them.  These are three of those stories.

The Quiet Little Woman is a novella about an orphan named Patty who is industrious, honest, quiet, and plain.  She sees all the pretty, cheery girls find homes, but her turn never comes until one day, a family returns a girl they had taken on trial and takes Patty instead.  She isn't really adopted as part of the family, but is more of a servant who gets to live in the house with them.  They are kind to her in a thoughtless, forgetful fashion, assuming that because she knows she's not really part of the family, she doesn't want to be included in anything.  But they have a maiden aunt who sees Patty's loneliness and begins to exchange letters with her.  Eventually the whole family learns to value Patty when they come to realize she has as many feelings and emotional needs as they do.  

The next story is "Tilly's Christmas," about a poor little girl who find a sick bird on the way home and nurses it back to health even though her playmates laugh at her for showing compassion to a creature that can't repay her in any way.  Her rich old neighbor overhears her defense of doing good for goodness' sake and takes Tilly and her mother under his wing because he realizes he should do the same.

The last story is "Rosa's Tale," in which a horse gains the ability to talk on Christmas Eve, per the old folktales, and tells her life story to the young woman who came out to give her an apple as a Christmas treat.

These stories on a whole reminds me of the simplistic, idealistic stories I used to make up as a child.  Goodness and hard work are rewarded with gifts from a benefactor, and everyone makes up their minds to be better people hereafter. The Quiet Little Woman strikes me as sort of a happier version of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, "Tilly's Christmas" reminds me a lot of Beth March and Mr. Laurence in Little Women, and "Rosa's Tale" is very similar to books like Anna Sewell's Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders.  However, although they all contained familiar themes and storylines, Alcott's warm and compassionate writing is a joy to read, and I very much enjoyed this quick book.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Wholesome, child-friendly goodness.

I'm linking this to Carissa's Christmas Fiction Extravaganza!  This is also my second book for the Women's  Classic Literature Event and my 29th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Some "Hamlet" Fun

Here are a few amusing Hamlet-oriented things from around the internet that I thought you might enjoy.

I discovered these Hamlet paper dolls a couple of weeks ago.  They are hilarious and adorable!  And they print up beautifully too.  And they have oodles of funny costumes for him other than this sort of to-be-expected one I'm showing here.  Like Captain Denmark, Loki, Dr. Who, a pirate, and some very silly ones like the Easter bunny and a ballerina.  Great fun!

If you've ever thought to yourself that Hamlet would make a wonderful film noir sort of movie, well, you're not the first to think that.  A couple of years ago, I wrote up a review of a totally imaginary film noir version that I invented and created a dream cast for -- you can read it here.  My talented and kind sister-in-law created this beautiful poster for it too.

If you like Hamlet-related music, you can listen to Patrick Doyle's soundtrack for the Kenneth Branagh version on YouTube here, and Ennio Morricone's soundtrack for the Mel Gibson version here.

And right now, the Paramount Vault has the Mel Gibson version available to watch on YouTube in its entirety for free, so if you've been wanting to see that, now's your chance!  It is here.

Finally, my alma mater performed Hamlet a few years ago, so if you'd like to see college-age actors in the roles, you can watch it on YouTube here.  I haven't seen all of it yet, but what I've seen is enjoyable.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act V, Scene 1 -- Part One

These last two scenes are sooooooo good and so important that I am splitting them both in half so we can squeeze every last drop of meaning and pleasure out of them.  So in this post, we'll look at lines 1 through 199 of this scene, ending where Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and others enter.

We open with a complete break in tone from the rest of the play.  We have two Gravediggers, also listed as Clowns, and they are quite a comedy duo, aren't they?  Their initial conversation is full of double entendres, mocking mimicry of lawyerly phrases, and little riddles.  They're the epitome of gallows-humor, aren't they? 

But we do learn something from them:  they're digging the grave of a noblewoman who is suspected of having committed suicide.  Obviously, this is Ophelia's grave, and people aren't convinced that her death was an accident.  The seemingly eye-witness account Gertrude gave would surely support the idea that it was unintentional, but I guess the general populace is not convinced?  Or at least the priest isn't, which we'll get into more in the second half of this scene.

Then off goes the Second Gravedigger to get some liquid refreshments, and in come Hamlet and Horatio.  Can you feel a difference in Hamlet?  I get the sense that he's cheerier, freer, much more easy-going than intense.  He's bantering with Horatio, and I imagine this must be more like what he was like back in Wittenberg before this all started.

Notice Hamlet brings up Cain and Abel, though.  He's clearly still thinking about Claudius and his father.  So it's not like being gone has made him forget his troubles.  It's more like he's come to terms with what he has to do and isn't fretting about it anymore.  That's my take, anyway.

He's also very fascinated with this idea of death and decay, isn't he?  Remember back in IV, 3 where he mentioned that we are all food for maggots in the end, king and commoner alike?  We revisit that idea here a bunch, that it doesn't matter how important you are in this life -- your body will return to dust in the end.  Later in this scene, he also muses on how even Alexander the Great came to the same end as anyone else.  

I think Hamlet has come to accept that he's going to die, whether he avenges his father or not -- Claudius wants him dead and will certainly achieve his aim one way or the other, unless Hamlet kills him first.  And if Hamlet kills King Claudius, he will be guilty of regicide and probably executed himself.  So now he's examining what's going to happen to him sooner or later -- his body will return to dust, his bones might get disturbed when someone else's grave is dug close to his, and no one will care.  In the end, he's not all that important.

And then Hamlet and First Gravedigger start conversing, and the zingers fly!  Harold Bloom calls this guy "the only personage in the play witty enough to hold his own with Hamlet" (Hamlet:  Poem Unlimited, 5), and I really feel like that's true.  Hamlet jokes that this guy is "absolute" or overly precise.  (That bit in Guardians of the Galaxy where Drax says "Nothing goes over my head -- my reflexes are too fast" totally made me think of First Gravedigger.)  But really the gravedigger is just super clever and witty, like Hamlet, and the two are delighting each other with their quippy wordplay.  I love the joke about people in England being mad, so no one would notice Hamlet's madness here -- I imagine that got a big laugh when this was originally played in London :-)

First Gravedigger tosses up a skull and announces that it belonged to Yorick, who had been the king's jester when Hamlet was a child.  They do a bit of musing about what a funny fellow Yorrick was, and Hamlet gets kind of grossed out by holding the skull of someone he once knew and loved.  Which, yeah, pretty gross and creepy there, Hamlet.

And then here comes the burial party, where we'll stop.  I do want to quick say, though, that Hamlet's last line before everyone enters is "But soft, but soft a while" (199), and way back in III,1 when Ophelia was coming, he ended his soliloquy with "Soft you now" (87).  Both times it means "hush" or "be quiet" or "stop talking about this," but I really think that having him use that same basic phrase has to be Shakespeare cluing us the audience in to... something.  Reminding us that Ophelia has died and this is who will be buried?  Telling us Hamlet suspects it could be Ophelia?  Usually he's played as very surprised to learn she's dead, but if Horatio warned him that she's gone mad, might he suspect that the woman to be buried might be she?  Possibly suspect it unconsciously, even?  I don't know, just thought I'd point out the similarity and see if anyone else had any thoughts.

Favorite Lines:

"The hand of little employment hath the daintier sense" (63-64).

"How absolute the knave is!  We must speak by the book, or equivocation will undo us" (122-23).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you sense a difference in Hamlet?  If you do, what are your thoughts on how and/or why he has changed?  If you don't, what makes you feel like he's still behaving and feeling the same way?

Why do you think Hamlet staring at Yorick's skull has become the instantly-recognizable icon for this play?  Why that, out of all the memorable moments in the play?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

"Letters of a Woman Homesteader" by Elinore Pruitt Stewart

On page 2 of this book, I fell in love with Elinore Pruitt Stewart.  She was describing her new employer to her friend Mrs. Coney, and she wrote that when he played his bagpipe, "It is 'The Campbells are Coming,' without variations, at intervals all day long and from seven till eleven at night.  Sometimes I wish they would make haste and get here" (2).  I had to put the book down while I laughed and laughed, and I knew I was going to truly enjoy this book.  And I did.  In fact, I loved it so much that before I even finished it, I ordered a copy of its follow-up, Letters on an Elk Hunt.  I'm very much looking forward to reading it.

So this book is actually a series of letters that this intrepid woman sent her friend and former employer after moving to Wyoming with her young daughter in 1909 to try her hand at homesteading.  She took a job keeping house for a Scottish bachelor and filed a homestead claim and lived an amazing life.  So amazing that after five or six letters, I started to suspect that this was a work of fiction, and had to do a little online research to see if it was really nonfiction or not.  But it is!  I learned that she truly sent all these letters to her friend, and eventually her friend persuaded Stewart to let her try to get them published.  They were widely embraced and lauded, and rightly so -- I just can't believe it took me this long to read this book!  Not only that, but I can't believe I hadn't even heard of it until a year or so ago!  I'm not even sure who recommended it or why I bought it, but I know it sat on my TBR shelf for quite a while before I decided to give it a try.  I'm so glad I did!  In fact, I gave a copy to my best friend for Christmas because I think she'll find it fascinating too.

Particularly Good Bits:

It was too beautiful a night to sleep, so I put my head out to look and to think. I saw the moon come up and hang for a while over the mountain as if it were discouraged with the prospect, and hte big white stars flirted shamelessly with the hills (4).

I am a firm believer in laughter (61).

To me, homesteading is the solution of all poverty's problems, but I realize that temperament has much to do with success in any undertaking, and persons afraid of coyotes and work and loneliness had better let ranching alone.  At the same time, any woman who can stand her own company, can see the beauty of the sunset, loves growing things, and is willing to put in as much time at careful labor as she does over the washtub, will certainly succeed; will have independence, plenty to eat all the time, and a home of her own in the end (100).

Soon he asked, "Are you goin' somewheres or jist travelin'?"  I told him I had started somewhere, but reckoned I must be traveling, as I had not gotten there (110).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for frontier hardships.

This is my 28th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club and my first for the Women's Classic Literature Event.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Anne" and "Shane"

Remember I said I'm going to read all the Anne books in 2016?  I just found a fellow Classics Club member named Elyssa who is hosting a challenge to do the same!  So I'll be participating in that next year.  Figured some of you might want to as well.  This will be part of my reading for the Women's Classic Literature Event.

Also, I am hereby officially announcing that I'm hosting a Shane read-along beginning January 10.  This is a short, quick read, but don't think that means it's a light book.  Jack Schaefer has packed a lot of gripping story into those pages.  

I know we're still in the throes of the Hamlet read-along, but just wanted to give everyone a heads-up about these two events!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act IV, Scene 7

We start out with Laertes and Claudius having a little heart-to-heart about why Claudius hasn't had Hamlet punished for killing Polonius.  Claudius says it's because Hamlet is too popular with the rest of Denmark.  That idea of being killed by your own machinations comes back again here -- remember the "hoist with his own petard" idea from back in Act III Scene 4?  Claudius brings it up again here when he says, "my arrows, Too slightly timbered for so loud a wind, Would have reverted to my bow again, But not where I have aimed them" (21-24).

So then a messenger brings the letter from Hamlet announcing his arrival.  Hamlet's being very snarky even in letter form, calling Claudius "High and mighty" (42).  I don't know about you, but to me that feels bolder than how he's addressed Claudius before this.  He's been cheeky with Polonius and others, yes, but always a bit wary around Claudius.  But now it's almost like he's thumbing his nose to Claudius.  The Hamlet who returns from his brief exile is rather different than the one who left, and we'll explore that a lot in the last two scenes, but I think already here we can see that he's done with what my dad would call "mousing around."  He's coming back, and he's going to tell Claudius how and why.  But he doesn't tell him yet -- he lets Claudius wonder and worry for a while.  Claudius has to be freaking out inwardly, don't you think?  Wondering if Hamlet knows he'd told England to kill him.  

And so Claudius hatches a plan to have Laertes kill Hamlet.  He says that no one would suspect it was intentional, but I'm pretty sure that if anyone did cry foul, he'd disavow all knowledge of it and heap the blame on Laertes.  Really, Laertes is getting used for Claudius' purposes just like his sister Ophelia, and grrrrrrr, that makes me mad.  Laertes is so eager to avenge his father's death that he's only too happy to fall in with the king's machinations.  In fact, he offers to improve on Claudius' whole "oops, one of these swords was accidentally uncovered and deadly" plan by smearing a deadly poison on it.  I really wonder what Laertes was planning to do with that poison -- I figure he'd bought it on his way back from Paris, and was planning to... poison Hamlet with it somehow?  Not sure he'd have thought it through much, actually, as he strikes me as much more of a "pantser" than a "plotter."  

Well, as Gielgud puts it, "Claudius is a professional poisoner, and as soon as Laertes mentions it, we should see him already planning to go one better" (John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet, p. 71).  An unbated sword smeared in poison isn't enough -- Claudius has to one-up Laertes and plan to put poison in a cup of wine too.  Yeesh, poor Hamlet hasn't got a chance, has he?

And not only is Claudius a "professional poisoner," he's a skillful liar too.  First, he says "revenge should have no bounds" (126) when he obviously thinks Hamlet's vengeance needs to be stopped.  And then he says that Hamlet is "free from all contriving" (133), when Hamlet is obviously a very suspicious fellow and he knows it.  But Laertes falls for all of it.

Then we get the sad news that Ophelia has drowned.  My copy says that willows were commonly associated with mourning and forsaken love, so that fits very nicely with Ophelia's story, huh?  I do sometimes wonder why Gertrude goes into such detail about how Ophelia drowned -- it almost feels like she witnessed it.  Certainly someone did, to know that her clothes held her up a while.  Who watched Ophelia drown and didn't help her????  This is really my biggest question or problem with this whole play -- that someone saw Ophelia drown and just let her.  Could they not get to her?  Who saw it?  I think Horatio is gone by now, off to meet up with Hamlet, so who was watching over Ophelia and just let her go drown herself?  This can be our Possible Discussion Question for the day.

Favorite Lines:

"And you must put me in your heart for friend" (2).

"It warms the very sickness in my heart" (53).

"To cut his throat i' th' church" (124)  (This is my favorite Laertes line.)

"One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
So fast they follow" (160-61).

"Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears" (182-83).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

We Have a Winner!

I used to pick the winner of my LMM-related giveaway, and Madam Red, you've won the "book drunkard" magnet!  

Congratulations :-)  I'll go leave a comment on your blog informing you of this too, in case you miss this announcement.  

Everyone else, better luck next time!  I'll be holding a Hamlet giveaway when the read-along finishes.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Books and Beverages Shoppe is Open!!!

My blogging friend Jamie Lapeyrolerie, who blogs at Books and Beverages, has decided to share her love of books and blogging in a new way:  by opening an online shop.  Yes!  Today is the day Books and Beverages -- The Shoppe officially opens for business!

This all started when Jamie was searching for a planner to help her keep track of her blogging schedule.  She interviews authors and bloggers, reviews books, dissects Walking Dead episodes, shares Fun Finds for the Book Nerd, and hosts her Inklings Series about the books of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (not to be confused with Heidi's Inkling Explorations series -- totally different thing) -- her blog is one of the most content-rich blogs I follow because she posts nearly every day.  So she was having a hard time keeping track of when she needed to get different posts done, and started looking around for some kind of organizer or planner or notebook that was specifically suited to blogging.  And she couldn't find any.  Being full of shiny awesome as she is, Jamie created one.  Then she realized that if she needed such a planner, other people probably did too, and thus she decided to start a shop and sell them.  And once she decided to open a shop, she had lots of other cool ideas for book-lover-oriented products, too.

I have the pleasure of being part of her launch team :-)  Which means that she sent me a sampling of her Shoppe's products to use and scrutinize and test and generally have great fun with them.  Now I'm going to share them with you!

I'll begin with the planner, since that's what started her on this adventure:

First, the cover artwork is delightful, isn't it?  It pulls in the name of her blog and shop by featuring a stack of books and a cup of some sort of steaming, yummy beverage.  It's got a really nice texture too -- kind of a woven feel to it, and it's sturdy but also supple so you can cram it in your computer bag and know it will bend if necessary, but won't get ripped or crumpled.  Inside, it has six non-dated, non-named month calendars like this:

I filled the first one out for next month because I have a bunch of blogging stuff going on in January, though at the time I took these pictures, I'd only put the date for one down so far (my upcoming Shane read-along that I really need to officially announce).

Then it also has 28 weeks-worth of checklist and notes pages, which I think would be especially helpful for anyone who participates in an advance-reader book-reviewing program:

And then there are some more pages to record what books you've read and write down quotes.  I'm totally going to use that to help myself keep on task for reading one Anne book a month in 2016.

Besides the planner, Jamie is also offering a set of postcards that feature delicious book quotes.  The full set is here, and she sent me these two as part of my sample pack:

They're super sturdy, not flimsy like a touristy postcard, and they come with envelopes too in case you want to send it to a bookish friend and not have the picture get mussed up by the post office.  

I can't decide if I'm going to send these to people, or keep them... I'm kind of thinking of buying a set to hang up and inspire me, and then sending these ones to friends.

And there are stickers and bookmarks!!!  They're from her Inklings Collection and come in sets of five, featuring a quote from either Lewis or Tolkien with some cute artwork.  Jamie sent me two stickers (square corners) and one bookmark (rounded corners):

Once I'd taken this picture, I stuck both of my stickers in my current journal because that's what I do with supremely cool stickers I want to keep forever.  Jamie is also offering iPad Mini covers and iPad Air covers that feature those same designs from her Inklings Collection, so you can show off your love of Tolkien or Lewis if you happen to own such a device.  She's planning to offer more book-lover-oriented items in the future, and I can't wait to see what else she has up her stylish sleeves.

Jamie, thanks so much for selecting me to be part of your launch team and sending me free samples of your cool products!  I think this planner is going to be much better than scrawling blog events on my wall calendar, where they get lost amid the various doctor appointments and classes my kids take, etc.  I love having someplace dedicated to my blogging schedule, and already this planner has helped me become more organized with my plans for 2016.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Surprise! An Impromptu Giveaway

So very many people liked this magnet when I posted about it earlier this week during the Lucy Maud Montgomery tag, and it just so happens I was at the book store today and spotted another of it, so I nabbed it and I'm giving that one away!  Not going to bother doing a big official giveaway right now -- just comment on this post if you want a chance to win it, and leave me either your blog address or your email address so I can contact you if you win.  I'll choose the winner on Tuesday, Dec. 8th.  Sound good?


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Guest Post About Anne Shirley

I've written a guest post for Eva's Lucy Maud Montgomery Week, and you can read it here on her blog :-)  

I'm really getting excited about re-reading all the Anne books next year!  And I think that will work so nicely for the Women's Classic Literature Event that I just posted about

Women's Classic Literature Event

Well, I've found my challenge for next year!  The Classics Club is hosting the Women's Classic Literature Event, which began with an announcement a few weeks ago, and which continues through the end of 2016.  They've also posted a survey for this event here, which I am now going to fill out.

1.  Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event.  I'm Hamlette, 35, wife and mother and writer.  I was homeschooled until I went to college.  I have a BA in Liberal Arts with concentrations in English and History.  I now homeschool my children.  I'm looking forward to acquainting myself with some female authors who have been on my radar for years, but whose books I just haven't gotten around to reading, especially Edith Wharton and Anne Bronte.

2.  Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not?  Yes, though I tend not to read books because they were written by a man or a woman, but because the books themselves interest me.  So this will be a unique exercise for me, focusing more on books based on the gender of the author.

3.  Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.  Edith Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, in New York City.  She wrote The Age of Innocence, among many other things.

4.  Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!)  I'm very fond of Lucy Honeychurch in A Room with a View by E. M. Forster.  She is young and fairly naive, but very curious about life and society's rules and mores.  While in Italy with her cousin-chaperone, she meets George Emerson and his father, who both question said rules and mores to figure out whether they are worth following or not.  Over the course of the book, Lucy grows into an intelligent young woman who knows how to use her mind and make her own decisions, and then live with the consequences of them.  To me, she is a whole or complete woman, and thoroughly believable as well.

5.  Favorite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?)  Jane Eyre.  Because she's got lots of good sense and a strong spirit, she's filled with kindness and generosity, and she loves to help others.  She was written by Charlotte Bronte.  I will be hosting a read-along of Jane Eyre beginning in May of 2016!

6.  We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list? (Just skip this question if you don’t have any at this point.)

I found a cool site called Women Writers that highlights several female authors for the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th century.  They give a brief bio of each author and list one or more of her important works.  It's obviously not meant to be any kind of comprehensive list (Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Lucy Maud Montgomery are not included, but is actually a list of rare books by famous female authors that were on display at a university library back in 2000.

7.  Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event. (Again, skip over this if you prefer not to answer.)

Trying not to use the same books I've already mentioned, and also none that are really hard and difficult to get through so as to not discourage newer readers of the classics, here are three I heartily recommend (and have read within the past year, actually):

1.  Persuasion by Jane Austen
2.  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
3.  The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

8.  Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts?

Joining immediately!

9.  Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list?

Kind of both.  I intend to read books from my Classics Club list, but choosing each one as it appeals to me.  I am also planning to reread all of the Anne of Green Gables books by Lucy Maud Montgomery in 2016, which will work nicely with this event.

10.  Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?)

Novels, just because that's what I love the most.  Might dabble in other things, though.

11.  Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women?

Nope.  Neither am I pulled that way in literature by men.  I read what interests me, and my interests are many and varied.

12.  Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious!

Yes!  As mentioned above, I am planning to host a read-along of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, beginning in May of 2016.  I haven't set a precise start-date yet, since that's six months away, so stay tuned for details! 

13.  Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer.

Virginia Woolf daunts me, so I might be quite inclined to join a read-along for one of her books.  I have To the Lighthouse on my Classics Club list already.

14.  Share a quote you love by a classic female author -- even if you haven’t read the book yet.

"A fondness for reading, properly directed, must be an education in itself." - Jane Austen:

15.  Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, & then answer it.

Q.  Have you ever read a book written by a woman that contained a male character and thought, "Wow, wouldn't that character be way more believable if it was written by a man?"

A:  No.