Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton is the only living child of John Barton, poor factory worker and Union leader in Manchester. He hoped for better for her, so he apprenticed her to a dressmaker, hoping that she could avoid the dreary life of a factory girl. Mary has high ambitions, hoping to snare the attentions of the young Harry Carsons, son of the mill owner, and thereby rise above poverty once and for all. However, because her neighbor and childhood friend Jem Wilson also adores her, and Mary must determine where her true affections lie.

While I can say in retrospect that I enjoyed reading Mary Barton, I really struggled for the first 200 pages. I could not connect to the characters, nor did I find anything in the plot engaging. At about page 200, things start to happen and I didn’t need to force myself to read for the last 300 pages, as I had for the beginning portion.Continue Reading

My Introduction to the Harlem Renaissance

In preparation for the upcoming (February) Harlem Renaissance Classics Circuit, I’ve been reading a lot of introductory material to prepare for the introductory information we need to write for the sign up post. As I mentioned yesterday, I don’t feel like an expert in anything, so I love having The Classics Circuit to get me motivated to research a subject in detail and feel a bit more coherent in one area.

That said, even reading three very different books about the Renaissance, I don’t feel I know it very well. I want to read half a dozen books written in the Renaissance decade. I want to read biographies and autobiographies of the characters influential to the movement. I want to immerse myself in the movement even further! I love this focused reading: it feel so satisfying.Continue Reading

The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

I do not feel like I am a creative person, at least when it comes to creating “something” from bare materials. Although as a teenager I learned how to embroider and I even had been known to sew myself a skirt, today I find myself impatient with the slow pace of those tasks. I took a pottery class and a drawing class at some point during high school, but those two artistic talents also try my patience so much that the pitiful end result is rather discouraging. Further, I have horrible handwriting, so my posters and cards are normally made from prints-outs from the computer. When I moved to Australia, I gave up on scrapbooking because Internet albums are much prettier and I’m online a lot so I can see them anytime.

Let’s face it: I’m a blogger and want-to-be photographer who rarely takes photographs (but I like tweaking them in Photoshop: instant results). I like to use computers creatively, but I do not create things completely from scratch.  I know that practice makes perfect. But I don’t have patience to practice.

And yet, I have a two-year-old. He loves to “help” me cook, so I’ve turned to Play-Doh during those times when he’s really just in the way. Then I wanted him to make his grandparents a Christmas present, so we’ve been playing with markers and wooden ornaments for weeks. And he loves it.

So, thanks to my son’s budding creativity, I decided to pick up The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule, which Lisa and Eva reviewed recently. In some respects, I found Soule’s book to be a life-shifting book for me as a mother.

No, I’m not suddenly going to be become a proponent of “unschooling” as Soule is. Soule’s philosophies are a bit extreme for me. But Soule’s book was, for me, a creative recharge that I needed. She shares my opinion that kids don’t need big plastic toys with batteries to have a happy Christmas childhood. She helped me see what I could do with my son instead.Continue Reading

Reading Journal (9 Dec): Thoughts on Being a Selective Reader

I’ve heard more than one person express worry that they will be considered a snob because they have been only reading classics lately. Why is that?

I made a comment on Claire at Paperback_Reader’s page a few months ago (yes, that’s how long I’ve been thinking about this) and her responses got me thinking about being a discerning reader. In part, Claire wrote:

If there are any gaps in my reading then I like to fill them. I know what I like but I would never consider myself so well-read that I could simply write-off an area of literature that doesn’t appeal to me; I would be scared that it would also be to my detriment as a reader.

I hope I’m not misunderstanding, but unlike Claire, I feel okay putting off areas of literature for now. It doesn’t mean that I’m considering myself so “well-read”: it just means that I have to make choices. I’m realizing I can’t read every book that I want to read. But not only can’t I read everything that has been published, I can’t even read one thing from each genre and still feel good about my reading. There are certain fields that I’m most interesting in gaining expertise in, certain fields that I enjoy above others, and certain genres and authors that I’m incredibly interested in reading next. Those are the works I feel good about selecting to read.

As a result of those selections, there are going to be gaps in my reading, and I fully accept that.Continue Reading