The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Preliminary Thoughts)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s prose style in The Scarlet Letter (first published 1850) is not for everyone. I admit, I don’t recall being impressed with the novel when I was 15 or 16 and I read it for the first time. Further, this summer I began a reread (via audio) only to stall a few chapters from the end1.

But for the careful reader, Hawthorne’s prose is richly rewarding. On this read, I could not stop marveling at the gorgeous construction of Hawthorne’s sentences and the ways in which his plot were furthered through the complicated writing style.

Beyond the prose, Hawthorne’s story is complicated, deep, and intense. In just a few hundred pages and in a seemingly basic storyline, The Scarlet Letter deals with issues of love and relationships of different types; guilt and religious zeal; self and community; and shame and pride. Because I chose to reread The Scarlet Letter this month in honor of Jillian’s Transcendentalist Month, I was intrigued by the anti-transcendentalist concepts Hawthorne portrays here. There is so much packed in to a deceitfully simple story that I am at a loss where to begin.Continue Reading

  1. I also blame this on morning sickness and the general exhaustion from early pregnancy.

(Kids Corner) Some Cybils Books about … Finding A Place

Once I started thinking of categorizing some of the Cybils books as “Finding a Place,” I found that many pictures books seem to emphasize that. Although picture books don’t provide a cathartic bildungsroman arc of developing self-awareness that middle-grade or young adult books do, in many ways picture books do share the stories of the miniature epiphanies that come to children as they go through life. Below are some of the books that do so, roughly categorized for sanity’s sake.Continue Reading

The Giver Trilogy by Lois Lowry

I read Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993, winner of the Newbery Medal 1994) when it was first published (I was a teenager), but the related books to it, Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004), were both written after my childhood days, so I hadn’t read them before. My book club recently decided to read Messenger, so I finally rectified that! I technically read them “out of order” then, reading Messenger before Gathering Blue. I enjoyed the latter two, but because I am no longer of the impressionable stage of life that I was in when I read the original, I didn’t love either of them as much as I have enjoyed The Giver.

Each of these books by Lois Lowry focus on a different type of dystopian community. Because there are some overlapping characters, it is called a “series,” but one technically does not need to read them in order because of the different settings of each story. I was fascinated to read these as an adult, with a little more perspective on the quite different dystopias Lowry focuses on.Continue Reading

The Blue Castle and Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (Brief Thoughts)

I grew up with Anne of Green Gables, which I reread frequently. For some reason, I don’t recall branching out and reading the other Lucy Maud Montgomery novels. As I was reading some longer, denser books recently, I felt the need for a reading break and took the chance to read two stand-alone novels by the writer from Prince Edward Island.

The Blue Castle (published 1926) is one of Montgomery’s novels written for adults. Valancy is a 29-year-old old maid who is constantly criticized, berated, and teased by her extended family, finding her only relief from reality in nature writing and daydreams about her dream home, an exotic Blue Castle. I must admit that when I began the novel, I really did not like the set up. I didn’t know anything about the plot, and I worried that I’d be able to read a novel with a weak woman. Never fear, L.M. Montgomery was able to quickly bring me around. When Valancy receives some surprising news, she comes to a decision that shocks her family: she speaks her mind. I loved Valancy’s transformation, I loved the twists in her life, and the ways in which she struck out on her own. I loved the romance in the story and all the coincidences of the plot. The Blue Castle is a novel I will enjoy rereading, and I suspect each time I finish it, I’ll be able to say with a sigh, “Ah, that was nice.”

Jane of Lantern Hill (published 1936) focuses on a young child (11 years old) but she faces similar frustrations in her life. Her grandmother nags and criticizes her, her loving mother is a weak-willed woman who still succumbs to the grandmother, and Jane longs for something to make her life complete. Like Valancy, Jane retreats from reality in to a daydream, in her case a trip to the magical moon. When she finds out that her long-absent father is alive and wants to spend the summer with her on Prince Edward Island, Jane is delighted by her new freedom. Although Jane transforms in ways similar to Valancy and even Anne Shirley herself, Jane didn’t feel as alive to me as these other favorite characters. Maybe because the romantic notions of a preteen no longer echo my own notions as preteen reading Anne of Green Gables, or maybe the plot simply wasn’t as satisfying. Nevertheless, I still really enjoyed reading about Jane’s self-discovery. It was a hopeful and peaceful book.

I now look forward to finding the other L.M. Montgomery novels I have not yet read!

(Can I just add that I greatly dislike these awful 1980s covers?)