Little Women Read-Along: Artistic Attempts (Ch. 26)

Know what I think is awesome?  That Alcott doesn't make her heroines great at everything they try.  Even the activities they're passionate about don't come easily to them.  And this whole chapter is a great example of that.  Amy loves art, she wants desperately to make Art that Matters and is Important.  And, well... she doesn't.  She keeps trying, but she doesn't turn out to be magically imbued with innate artistic talent that, when she strikes upon the right medium, bursts forth in boundless glory and makes her famous and renowned and respected overnight.

And I find her trying and failing and still trying some more to be a whole lot more relate-able and inspiring, don't you?

Favorite Lines:

Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in a row, looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coalbin (p. 230).

Mrs. March knew that experience was an excellent teacher, and when it was possible she left her children to learn alone the lessons which she would gladly have made easier, if they had not objected to taking advice as much as they did salts and senna (p. 232).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Were you shocked when only one girl showed up for Amy's party?

Alcott opens the chapter by remarking, "It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius" (p. 229).  How would you describe the difference?

Little Women Read-Along: The First Wedding (Ch. 25)

(From the 1978 version)

Such a blissfully happy chapter!  I love Meg's simple wedding -- I tried to have as simple a wedding as possible, myself.  Why stress out over endless details and fluff that just take your attention off what's actually important that day?

And I also love that Meg doesn't hide away until she walks down the aisle.  No superstitious "groom can't see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony" nonsense for her!  None for me either.  I declare, this chapter is making me fonder and fonder of Meg!

Favorite Lines:

So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender hopes and innocent romances of a girlish heart (p. 223).

...laughter is ready when hearts are light (p. 226).

Possible Discussion Questions:  

How long do you think Meg will keep returning to her family's home every single day, like she promises at the end of the chapter? 

What was your favorite thing about Meg's wedding?

"Rooster" by Brett Cogburn

This book's subtitle is The Life and Times of the Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man who Inspired "True Grit," and as such, I'm afraid I found it disappointing.  While Brett Cogburn does show that Charles Portis clearly did a lot of research into the history of Arkansas and the people, names, and places therein, I was never convinced that Brett Cogburn's ancestor Franklin "Rooster" Cogburn in any way directly inspired the one-eyed U.S. Marshal of True Grit fame.  Franklin Cogburn was never a Marshal, had two good eyes, was only rarely called "Rooster," and never lived to be an old, fat man.  What he did do was serve a prison sentence for moonshining and conspiring to kill a Marshal, then raise a family, turn preacher, and die of an illness at 45.

So as the story of a man who inspired Charles Portis' novel, this did not convince me.

However, as the well-researched, loving, and detailed history of a backwoods patch of Arkansas where moonshiners held enough sway to keep the Revenuers at bay for a long time, it's very interesting.  Rambling, but interesting.  I enjoyed reading it, I didn't feel like it was wasting my time, and I now have a firmer grasp of the history of this country's midsection in the 19th century.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for language, alcohol use, and violence.

Little Women Read-Along: Gossip (Ch. 24)

It's so nice to be back again, isn't it?  I've enjoyed the week off (I finished three books!), but I'm glad to be reading about the Marches once more.

This chapter feels like Alcott is easing herself and us back into this family, reminding us of personalities and how various characters get along or don't.  I'm particularly amused by Laurie's habit of bringing all kinds of not-useful inventions home for Meg and John's new home, earning himself a new nickname from Jo:  Mr. Toodles.

Speaking of Jo, she'd steadfastly ignoring all romantic hints from Laurie.  And Laurie's making plenty of hints, though he keeps them guarded.  We who know who he winds up marrying can see a little romantic foreshadowing in his teasing compliments to Amy.

Isn't it nice that Mr. March has found people who appreciate him?  He's back in his parish, but also attracting interesting people who find him inspirational or helpful.  I love the description of him as "the household conscience, anchor, and comforter (p. 214)

Favorite Lines:

...the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving hands do them... (p. 217).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you think Jo's annoyance over Laurie cutting his hair is at all related to her own hair-cutting adventure?

"Little Women" Giveaway Winners!

It's Friday!  It's time to draw the giveaway winners!  So many reasons to celebrate.  Drumroll please...

...and the winners are:

  • Rose for the copy of Little Women
  • Ekaterina for the copy of The Quiet Little Woman

Congratulations, both of you!  Please check the email addresses you provided for a message from me asking for your mailing address :-)

Next chapter review gets posted tomorrow!  Meanwhile, enjoy this picture of Louisa May Alcott reading, and follow her example.

Speaking of Giveaways...

...I've had a cool new idea.  Remember that time last summer when I gave away like twenty of my books?  I'm totally going to do that again.  I've already got 9 or 10 books put aside for this (like books I read but didn't love enough to keep, or books I got copies of that I liked better), and I'll probably have more after I finish combing through my books again prior to another yard sale.

So, yes, another big book giveaway is in the offing.  Probably in June, after the Little Women Read-Along is over.

But that's not my cool new idea.

My cool new idea is this:  what if, at the same time as I held my book giveaway, lots and lots of other blogs held book-related giveaways too.  Like, a giveaway party.  A giveaway link-up.  People could bop from one blog to the next, entering giveaways all over.  

Every blogger would come up with their own rules and restrictions and host their own giveaways, but they could link somehow (haven't worked out details yet) to all the others too, so people could find lots and lots of giveaways to enter.

I think that would be crazy good fun.  Not to mention, we could all end up with free new books.

So... does that sound like fun to anyone else?  

"Little Women" Giveaway!

Here it is, folks!  We're half done with Little Women, and it's time to celebrate.

This giveaway is open world-wide.  I will choose the winners one week from today, on Friday, April 24, 2015.  I will then email the winners at the address provided to the widget, and they will have one week to reply with their mailing address.  If a winner does not reply by Thursday, April 30th, I will disqualify them and pick a new winner.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widgets includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get my email informing you that you won!

There are two prizes:

A paperback copy of Little Women -- the Barnes & Noble Classics edition, with an introduction and endnotes by Camille Cauti.  If you don't have your own copy, or if your copy doesn't include both Little Women and Good Wives (aka Books 1 and 2, or Parts 1 and 2), or if you have a friend who simply ought to have a copy, this is a lovely edition!

(I bought this new from Barnes & Noble.)

The Quiet Little Woman.  This is actually three Christmas stories by Louisa May Alcott:  the novella The Quiet Little Woman and the short stories "Tilly's Christmas" and "Rosa's Tale."

(I found this at the used book store.)

I will draw two winners, one for each book, so please comment below to tell me which of these you would rather have if you win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Little Women Read-Along: Aunt March Settles the Question (Ch. 23)

And here we are, at the final chapter of Book I.  Which means we'll be taking a one-week break before beginning Book II -- time for the giveway, for people to catch up, for people to take a break, whatever.  

Is it just me, or does Jo need to quit trying to convince Meg to act like, well, Jo?  Jo is fearless and determined, and against Meg marrying John Brooke, and she wants Meg to be the same.  By the end of the chapter, she does seem to have grown up a bit about the whole thing, at least.

Isn't that last paragraph interesting?  Like Alcott is basically asking her readers to tell her whether or not she should write a sequel.  "If you buy my book, then I'll write you another."  Imagine if a modern-day writer put that at the end of their story!  What sort of reaction would they get?  Anyway, it amused me.

Favorite Lines:

He was grave and pale now, and looked decidedly more like the novel heroes whom she admired, but he neither slapped his forehead, nor tramped about the room as they did (p. 204).

"You've got me, anyhow.  I'm not good for much, I know, but I'll stand by you, Jo, all the days of my life.  Upon my word I will!" and Laurie meant what he said (p. 209).

Possible Discussion Questions:  A few chapters ago (in "Confidential"), Jo "planned to have [Meg] marry Teddy by-and-by and sit in the lap of luxury all her days" (p. 183).  Why do you think she's so against Meg marrying John Brooke, but perfectly happy with the idea of her marrying Laurie?

It says, "Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing the spirit of opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed doing it" (p. 205).  Do you think maybe she almost meant to get Meg to make up her mind about Mr. Brooke by demanding Meg not marry him?

Little Women Read-Along: Pleasant Meadows (Ch. 22)

Oh my goodness!  We're almost done with the first book!  If I can, I'll try to post the final chapter and kick off the giveaway tomorrow.  Fridays are super busy for me, though, so it might not happen until Saturday.

So here we have a very happy chapter.  Beth is slowly getting better, it's Christmas time again, and Mr. March returns to surprise everyone.  Don't you love the scene that creates?  Oh, it makes me laugh and cry at the same time.  "Jo disgraced herself by nearly fainting away, and had to be doctored by Laurie in the china closet."  (Laughing!)  "Mr. Brooke kissed Meg entirely by mistake, as he somewhat incoherently explained."  (Laughing more!)  "And Amy, the dignified, tumbled over a stool, and never stopping to get up, hugged and cried over her father's boots in the most touching manner."  (More laughing!)  And then... oh, and then.  "The study door flew open, the little red wrapper appeared on the threshold, joy put strength into the feeble limbs, and Beth ran straight into her father's arms."  (Sudden onslaught of tears.) (p. 196)

Completely wonderful.  Jo glowering at Mr. Brooke, Mr. March praising his daughters for becoming better people, and everyone generally as happy as can be.  Except when Jo remembered to glower, of course.  Can you imagine poor Mr. Brooke, wondering (or perhaps knowing?) why she was so annoyed with him?  Poor guy.

Favorite Lines:

Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is (p. 196).

Possible Discussion Questions:

The girls gave Mrs. March a brooch "made of gray and golden, chestnut, and dark brown hair" (p. 196).  Whose hair is gray?

The Tolkien Trio Reading Tradition

I've gone entirely mad.  I'm going to shelve 3 of the 5 books I'm reading for the moment (NOT Little Women, don't get flustered) and read The Silmarillion.  I've wanted to read it for years and years and years, but never gotten up the guts.  However, James at A Tolkienist's Perspective is hosting a read-along of The Silmarillion and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings back-to-back-to-back, and I dig his blog a lot, and this seems to be the impetus I need to get started, so... I'm kind of taking a break from Middlemarch, North and South, and The Christian Imagination to slip The Silmarillion into my reading life.  Which is nutty, but... so am I.  Right?

Click the button if you want to learn more and join up yourself.  Or just read his blog, cuz it's groovy.

"Little Women" 1978 Movie Version

I wrote a pretty thorough review of this movie last year on my other blog -- you can read it here.  But for this read-along, I did want to post about it because I feel it's a very cool adaptation, and I wish more people knew about it.  So today, I'm going to post about each of the main characters and how I think they work or don't work.

This is a TV miniseries that aired in 1978, and it's available to watch for free on Hulu here (if you live in the US, anyway).  You can also buy it on DVD, which I did because I liked it so well.  I've taken a bunch of screencaps for this post -- I'm sorry they aren't clearer, but the DVD is not exactly HD. 

Okay, on to the characters :-)

Jo March (Susan Dey)

I like Dey's portrayal of Jo a lot.  She's impulsive, full of a sort of uncontainable energy, and fiercely intelligent.

She's not traditionally beautiful, which I appreciate, since Jo's hair is supposed to be her greatest physical beauty.  But she has a clear, forthright face, and all together, she very much fits my idea of Jo.

Meg March (Meredith Baxter)

Baxter makes a suitable Meg.  She's proper and ladylike, and gives the impression she's wishing for something she hasn't quite defined yet.

Meg is kind of a thankless role, I think, because she doesn't have a lot to do.  Aside from allowing herself to get dressed up like a society girl and drinking champagne one time, she's a very good girl, and good characters are hard to add depth to, I think.  Meredith Baxter does make Meg fairly likeable, rather than turning her into a goody-two-shoes or a rebellious shrew.

Beth March (Eve Plumb)

Speaking of goody-two-shoes... Plumb doesn't play Beth as one, either.  She's patient and kind and thoughtful and altogether nice, but I get the impression she has to work at being those things.  I like that.

If she looks familiar, that's because Plumb played Jan Brady on The Brady Bunch.  I find her less effective as the younger Beth than as an older, ailing Beth who has resigned herself to her fate.  The scenes between her and Jo later on are especially sweet.

Amy March (Ann Dusenberry)

I feel like Dusenberry is the one jarring note in the cast.  She looks and acts way too old to be young Amy.  When she grows up and meets Laurie again in Europe, she works better, but I never quite buy her as Amy, alas.

Marmee March (Dorothy McGuire)

I love Dorothy McGuire.  She's like the ultimate movie mom, isn't she?  From Friendly Persuasion to Old Yeller to The Swiss Family Robinson to The Greatest Story Ever Told, she has played so many of my favorite movie moms.  Add her turn as Marmee to that collection!  She's firm, but not stern; kind, but not soft; tender, but not mushy; intelligent, but not unladylike.  I love her portrayal, and I think she may be my favorite Marmee ever.

Laurie/Teddy (Richard Gilliland)

Okay, Gilliland is not especially handsome.  And I had a Ken doll with that exact same hair style back in the '80s.  But I actually quite like him as Laurie.  He's earnest and mischievous and fun.

By the time he and Jo have finished getting acquainted at the Christmas dance, I have no problem believing him as Laurie.

Professor Friederich Bhaer (William Shatner)

Yes.  Shatner plays Professor Bhaer.  And I really like him in this role, though he's probably much more handsome and charming than necessary.

His German accent is tolerable, and he's so earnest and helpful, alternately bombastic and shy... I can't help but like him.

Mr. Laurence (Robert Young)

Young sports an impressive mustache as Mr. Laurence.  He growls and rants, but is also kind and thoughtful, and I find him perfectly acceptable.

EDIT:  I forgot Aunt March!  You know she's never going to forgive me.  What shall I ever do to make amends?  I'm so very fond of her, and I can't believe I forgot to include her here.

Aunt March (Greer Garson)

As you might expect, Greer Garson is absolutely superb as Aunt March.  Querulous, commanding, didactic, soft-hearted, and with a sly sense of humor that peeps out now and then.  

Okay, that's all I've got, folks.  If you like the looks of this adaptation, do try it!  Because it's a three-hour miniseries, it can go into more detail than a feature film, and overall, it's a very faithful and enjoyable adaptation.

Little Women Read-Along: Laurie Makes Mischief, and Jo Makes Peace (Ch. 21)

Really, you don't have to read this chapter at all -- you can just read the title, and you know what happens.  That naughty Laurie, teasing Meg in such a personal way.  I wish I knew what Marmee said to him, don't you?

And good for Jo, "handling" both Laurie and Mr. Laurence just the right way.  Laurie wants to be allowed to grow up, and Mr. Laurence is afraid of losing him, and Jo somehow manages to placate and reassure both of them.

Possible Discussion Questions:

Any idea what Jo is referring to when she says, "'Prunes and prisms' are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to it" (p. 190)?

Little Women Read-Along: Confidential (Ch. 20)

Marmee's home!  And busy as can be, dealing with the fallout of her absence and Beth's illness.  

I actually disagree with Marmee's thought that Amy's having a quiet place to think nice thoughts and pray will be more useful than a ring to remind her to not be selfish.  I myself find that a physical reminder of a trait or habit is extremely useful -- I've used various rings and bracelets over the years to remind myself to be peaceful, patient, and courageous.  They've helped me a lot.

But anyway, poor Jo, all distraught at the idea of her home getting broken up.  I have to smile at how melodramatic she gets, but I completely sympathize with her sorrow over the prospect of having their lives change.  I hate change myself, very much.

Favorite Lines:

"...she'll go and fall in love, and there's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together.  I see it all!  They'll go lovering around the house, and we shall have to dodge" (p. 182).

"I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had in a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures (p. 182).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Alcott doesn't describe Marmee's reunion with her daughters, but "leave[s] it to the imagination of [her] readers" (p. 178).  Do you think that's a wise choice, or is it lazy writing?

How do you think change-hating Jo dealt with their father going off to war?

Little Women Read-Along: Amy's Will (Ch. 19)

This is a brighter, more cheerful chapter, eh?  Although Amy is having trouble understanding (and being understood by) Aunt March, overall she has life pretty nice.  Especially compared to the terrible worries and fears Meg and Jo are enduring!  Still, she has her little worries, and draws up her own will in all earnestness.

Favorite Lines:

Some old people keep young at heart in spite of wrinkles and gray hairs, can sympathize with children's littl ecares and joys, make them feel at home, and can hide wise lessons under pleasant plays, giving and receiving friendship in the sweetest way (p. 171).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Have you ever made your own will, either recently or when you were a child?

What might the inclusion of a sympathetic Roman Catholic character, who is a servant and a Frenchwoman, tell us about Alcott's own views on religious differences?

"Corral Nocturne" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I've discovered a problem with reading books with the Kindle app on my phone:  I forget to review them.  I read this back in February, having enjoyed Elisabeth Grace Foley's previous western stories.  And then I forgot to review it.  Sigh.

It's a retelling of the Cinderella story, set in the west, and it's not very long -- more of a long short story than a novella, I think, but that's a good length for this story.  In it, Ellie Strickland lives on a ranch with her widowed mother and her older brother, Ed.  Ed is ornery and apt to run folks off their property, so Ellie has grown up with few friends and zero prospects for marrying and moving away from her domineering brother and weary mother.

Enter Cole Newcomb, back home after attending college back East.  He takes pity on Ellie when he meets her, and decides to introduce her to folks in the area by escorting her to picnics and so on.  Ellie starts to make friends, and she's thrilled as can be with Cole invites her to attend the big 4th of July shindig in town with him.  She makes a dress with her mother's help, and so on.  There's no fairy godmother here, just a sweet prince of a suitor and a helpful mother.

Of course, things at the 4th of July shindig don't go as planned, and Ellie winds up walking home, until... well, let's just say by the end of that evening, I was utterly besotted with Cole Newcomb myself.  And not just because I kept seeing Armie Hammer playing him.

If you like clean, well-told western stories with a gentle romance, read this!  I've moved on to Foley's latest release, the short story collection Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories, which I'm also reading on my phone -- I'll try to remember to review it right away when I finish it :-D

Particularly Good Bits:

"No man in his right mind would want Ed for a brother," she said aloud to herself, and then added as an afterthought, "and I wouldn't want to marry the other kind."

"Don't worry about that.  I'll fix Ed," said Mrs. Strickland, the determination in her voice making it sound as if she intended to do it with a hammer.

The stars themselves were bits of shattered dreams, fallen around her like glittering shards of glass in the hollow blackness of her world.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  No violence, no cussing, nothing more than a chaste kiss.

Little Women Read-Along: Dark Days (Ch. 18)

Did you have a nice Easter?  We certainly did!  Full of rejoicing about Jesus' triumph over sin, death, and Satan, and also full of friends, family, and yummy food :-9  Don't worry if you're a bit behind here because you were busy with holiday fun -- I am not a lit professor and I will not scold you or dock your grade.

Oh my goodness, these poor girls!  Beth at death's door, and no parents to guide or comfort them.  I'm so pleased with Laurie for sending for Marmee even though Hannah said not to -- after all, he was under no obligation to obey her like Meg and Jo were.  Though as it turns out, Beth gets through the worst of it before Marmee returns.  But still, good for Laurie.

And when Jo learns of his actions, she hugs him, clings to him, and then Laurie... kisses her!  On the cheek, I would assume, but Jo seems rather disconcerted, blaming the wine for making her "fly at" her Teddy.  Foreshadowing of conflict to come, methinks.

Favorite Lines:

How dark the days seemed now, how sad and lonely the house, and how heavy were the hearts of the sisters as they worked and waited, while the shadow of death hovered over the once happy home (p. 164).

A breath of fresh air seemed to blow through the house, and something better than sinshine brightened the quiet rooms (p. 168).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Jo says Beth is her conscience.  What do you think she meant by that?

Little Women Read-Along: Little Faithful (Ch. 17)

I know everyone's busy getting ready for Easter (including me), but I didn't want to fall behind, so I'm posting a chapter today anyway.

Blech.  What a horrible chapter.  Let's get it over with.  Almost everyone gets complacent and lazy, and Beth pays for their behavior with her own time and kindness, and also with her health.

My kids and I battled strep throat over and over last year -- strep turns into scarlet fever if you don't have antibiotics.  My goodness, that bug is no picnic!  Worst sore throat you can imagine.  I couldn't sleep because it hurt so much until I got antibiotics in me.  I feel very, very sorry for Beth here.

The whole scene with Laurie and Amy at Aunt March's amused me, though.  Especially the parrot :-D

Favorite Lines:

For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have supplied the neighborhood (p. 157).

Possible Discussion Questions:

I actually don't have any today.  Do you?

Little Women Read-Along: Letters (Ch. 16)

Quick before we dig into this chapter, I just wanted to ask if anyone else is interested in writing a guest post for the first half of this book.  Heidi is working on a post about Amy, but we might hold off on posting it until the second half.  But no one has spoken for Jo or Meg or Marmee or Laurie, and they all warrant their own character sketches, I think.  Also, I plan to write a new review of the 1978 TV mini-series version, but if you'd like to contribute a review of another version (1933, 1949, or 1994), that would be awesome too!

Also, I've decided to do two giveaways in conjunction with this read-along, one after Book One, and one after Book Two.  If we stick to the current schedule of one chapter every-other-day, that means the first giveaway will kick off around April 16.  Just so you know!

(My mom had this adaptation when she was a girl,
and it's the first one I can remember reading.)
Now, back to the book.  This chapter opens on a very subdued note, with everyone trying to be brave about Marmee leaving to nurse Father.  And Marmee gives them some excellent advice:  "Don't grieve and fret when I am gone, or think that you can be idle and comfort yourself by being idle and trying to forget.  Go on with your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace" (p. 149-50).  Oh, wise Marmee!

But things don't stay worrisome and melancholy for long.  The girls get word that their father is getting well, and we end the chapter with several delightful letters, not just from the girls, but from Hannah, Laurie, and Mr. Laurence too!  I really enjoyed those letters, and I think they must have been fun for Alcott to write each one from the different characters' perspectives, personalities, etc.

Favorite Lines:

"I think anxiety is very interesting," observed Amy, eating sugar pensively (p. 151).

I'm Jo, and I never shall be anything else (p. 153).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What do you think of the dialect Hannah's letter is written in?  What does it tell you about Hannah that we might not otherwise know from the story?