Birth Day by Mark Sloan

Awwwww … newborn babies! I am a bit excited by the image of an innocent, soft, wrinkly newborn baby these days, for obvious reasons. Less than eight more weeks until a newborn daughter joins my family!

I found Birth Day by Mark Sloan (published 2009) one day when I was browsing the shelves looking for something about pregnancy or babies, and it was just perfect! Dr. Sloan is a pediatrician, regularly on rotation at the hospital to care for the newborns who may need a little assistance getting started in the world. But Birth Day is far more than a memoir of doctoring: it’s a reflection on his own experiences as a husband to a laboring woman, a personal account of his own experiences as a man becoming a father for the first and then second time, and a researched history of childbirth practices throughout history. The subtitle is “a pediatrician explores the science, the history and the wonder of childbirth” and that is an apt description. All those aspects are central to the book, and Dr. Sloan’s casual voice and personal presence makes it a pleasant read.

Continue Reading

Henry VI Part 1 by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1 (written maybe 1588 or 1592, possibly revised 1594) dramatizes the beginning of the War of Roses (which lasted from 1455 to 1485). It portrays the animosity between the leaders of the House of York and the leaders of the House of Lancaster as they bickered amongst each other for power, even as England continued the quest to control France, whose army was led by the warrior Joan of Arc.

Does that sound like a lot going on? It felt like it was a lot as I read it. My main problem was remembering who was who, and I found myself frequently referencing the cast list as I read the play. Henry VI Part 1 is commonly named as one of Shakespeare’s poorer plays1, and I’m not surprised. I am fascinated by Joan of Arc and for personal reasons I was intrigued by the historical aspects of the play, but nothing truly remarkable made Henry VI Part 1 stick out for me. I do look forward to reading the next two parts, because I’m hoping my greater familiarity with the characters, plus the “better written” reputation, will make it a more satisfying read.Continue Reading

  1. Harold Bloom, in his volume Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, uses terms like “bad” “botched” and “crude,” but of course we know we must take Professor Bloom with a grain of salt

Enchanted Hunters by Maria Tatar

When my son and this blog were newborns, I purchased a copy of Seth Lerer’s Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History and began reading some of the classic children’s books that I loved as a child and/or that have been influential in creating children’s literature as we know it. My project through the classics in that book got rather derailed as my baby became a toddler.

Now he’s a preschooler and I’m expecting another baby. I still don’t have the time (or the motivation, to be honest) to follow a progressive approach to reading through classic stories of the past1, but I certainly enjoy reading literary criticism of literature and the history of the stories that are the foundation for children’s literature today.

Enchanted Hunters, Maria Tatar’s volume on “The Power of Stories in Childhood,” is enjoyable and informative for the reader of children’s literature, for the parent who reads to a child, and for the reader who enjoys fairy tales. She discusses children’s literature from a few different approaches, including literary criticism, history, and personal opinions.

Continue Reading

  1. I’ve found that my reading needs to be a bit more of an “escape” than an assignment given my busy life

Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Thoughts at the Beginning

It has been a little while since I’ve read a Charles Dickens novel, but beginning Bleak House (first published 1853) was a delightful reminder of why I enjoy this author so much: he’s so good at writing. The scene as it is established in the early passages of the novel is simply marvelous. I was delighted at how Charles Dickens breaks all the “rules” (I’m thinking Strunk and White here).

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

I love the setting as it is described here. And while Bleak House the residence does not (at least so far) seem to be a bleak place, London’s pervasive fogginess (and by symbolic extension, the never-ending Chancery case at the center of the novel) provides a wonderful contrast that got me excited to be reading the novel from the beginning.

Because I’m only 15% into the book, I have a few problems. First, I don’t know who is who. There are so many new characters – all with fantastic Dickensian names – that I can’t remember who I’ve already met and which character did what. A second and related problem is that I have no idea where the book is going. This is a good thing, right? As I do get in to the book, the suspense of the unknown will grow and it will end up rather satisfying. I’m a read-the-end first kind of reader, though, so not knowing what to expect leaves me feeling lost in an unsatisfying way as I do read. What should I be looking for? Which of the many characters will be most important as the novel progresses?

Finally, I am a bit lost about the Chancery situation. As in, I don’t know why the families are at legal battle with each other. They’ve tried to explain it a few times, but I’m just not getting it. I suspect this is an important aspect of the novel, so I’m hoping I get a better grip on it soon. In fact, before I posted this, I went back and skimmed the Chancery bits in the first 15% of the novel to try and get a better understanding for the rest of the novel.

But, despite my concerns, I am happy to say that I’m very impressed with what I’ve read so far. I look forward to delving in to it a bit more this week.

Have you read Bleak House? Do you have any suggestions for how I should continue reading it (especially concerning keeping the characters straight)?

This is post one of my Charles Dickens Month project!