Do We Need to Read or Reread Every Book by Our Favorite Authors?

Do we need to read or reread every book by our favorite authors? What happens when we read (or reread) all of Dickens, Trollope, and the Brontes?

First, on rereading Dickens. I was doing well until I got to Hard Times.

hard times dickens cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Mind you, I loved Hard Times when I first read it, and it would be a masterpiece if anyone else had written it.  But Dickens’s best novels (Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend) are so exciting, vigorous,  unpredictable  and wildly comic that this reads like Dickens “lite.” Dickens does better when he writes long than when he writes short.

The plot is entertaining, if messy, but some of the objects of his satire–education, for instance–he has done better elsewhere (Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield).  But I am fond of the characters:    Louisa  Gradgrind, a young woman educated to care only about facts and then married off in a state of emotional shock to a dishonest factory owner, Josiah Bounderby;  Sissy Jupe, the abandoned daughter of an aging clownand is a failure of the Gradgrind educational system ; and Merrylegs, the circus dog who saves Louisa’s brother, Thomas.

Hard Times is amusing, it is stylishly written, and it is socially pertinent, yes.  Set in a factory town, it is partially an exposé of the exploitation of factory workers.  Dickens also satirizes education:  Mr. Gradgrind raises the intelligent Louisa and her dissolute brother Thomas on facts, and oversees a school educating children only in facts.  The moral:  If you’re raised on facts and have no education, you are a psychological mess.

Dickens always makes brilliant use of rhetoric.  In the first paragraph, the opening speech of Mr. Gradgrind,  he repeats “Facts”  five times and “principle”  twice.

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’

Hard Times seems more suited to, dare I say it, high school classrooms.  The same with Tale of Two Cities, which we read in ninth grade.  Have you noticed how teachers so often pick the shortest books?

What is your favorite Dickens?

Golden lion of Granpere trollope 6Should I read all of Trollope?  Well, I am a Trollope fan.  I love his long novels, especially Can You Forgive Her? and He Knew He Was Right.  But I have not enjoyed his short novels.

Well, I recently embarked on  The Golden Lion of Granpere, set in France.  What kind of Victorian novel is set in France?  I wondered.  Not one I want to read, I decided.  There’s an innkeeper, and he doesn’t want his son to marry his niece.  But somehow this plot works much better in England!

It’s only 260 pages, and somebody will like it, but since Trollope lacks Dickens’s rhetorical brilliance and also needs space to develop his leisurely plots, his short novels seem blank to me!

Does this mean I like only long books?  No.

anne bronte tenant of wildfell hall 51Sp7PW34wL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Bronte is a master of the short novel.  I recently reread The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. You will be relieved to know that I enjoyed it.

Although her style is not as poetic or striking as that of Charlotte or Emily, I love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne’s feminist novel about the perils of romantic love. The frame construction reminds me of Wuthering Heights. We get to know the heroine, Helen Graham, through the narrator’s intense letters to a friend, and then through the diary she gives him to read, and then back to his letter. Helen, who says she is a widow, is actually one of the first “battered women” in literature: she has escaped from her violent husband and lives  in a secluded house with her four-year-old son, supporting herself by art.  And she is so passionate and wedded to her isolation that she reminds me very slightly of a female Heathcliff.

So it’s worth it to reread all the Brontes again and again!

Do you feel it’s necessary to read every book by a favorite author?

In Which My Cousin & I Read in the Backyard

anne taintor-i-believe-we-have-an-opportunity-to-make-somMy cousin and I spent an afternoon in the back yard reading.

Books, not e-books.

She started on her phone.  She wasn’t reading an actual book.

“That’s email.”

Whether I’m slapping mosquitos or looking at flowers, I like to experience nature without the benefit of going on the internet.

“Do you want to hang out, or look at your phone?”

I have too much email, too.  Most of it comes from Orbitz or Yahoo groups, but occasionally a publisher offers me a book, and then I must decide whether I want to read it, or whether I’m just looking for a gift. And my cousin’s life is on a whole different level. She is invited to a “Let’s Make a Deal” party.  I’ve never seen this game show, so I could not be excited for her, but apparently it involves dressing up, maybe like a lemon.

Here’s what we needed in the back yard to relax.

Colour Scheme Ngaio MarshIced tea.  Check.  Colour Scheme, a mystery by Ngaio Marsh (me).  Valley of the Dolls by Jacqlyn Susann (my cousin).  Check.

My cousin would rather go to the mall.

“No, you have to detox.  Read 20 pages first.” I can’t relax at the mall, and I’m into the zero spending thing this summer.

The truth is, we’re both slightly unraveled this summer.  Last month a tree fell and smashed the garage in our back yard and did other damage.  We are still picking up the pieces.

My cousin is tearful about her own back yard. When she moved to the suburbs, she wanted a garden, possibly a la Vita Sackville-West, but guess what?  Nothing actually grew except marigolds.  So she hired landscapers, and the yard now looks pretty, but she thinks they have hosed her lawn with poison instead of organic pesticide.

My cousin and I were raised by mothers who knew nothing about smashed garages or gardening.  Our fathers didn’t talk to us about smashed garages or gardens.  Our fathers didn’t talk to us at all.  All my life I have vaguely meant to learn how to take care of “things” in the house, but my reaction to the big storm is simply to sit around in my pajamas and make phone calls.

Ngaio Marsh’s charming, absorbing mysteries are a restorative.  I always find it bracing to spend time with Roderick Alleyn, my favorite detective in fiction.  And this is the first novel I’ve read by Marsh set in her native New Zealand, in a mud bath resort during World War II.

As you can imagine, my cousin became very involved with Jennifer, Anne, and Neely while reading this page-turner, Valley of the Dolls.  Their  problems are so much worse than ours.

“I feel just like Anne,” she said.

We ALL feel just like Anne.  She’s the smart one who stays off drugs.  The gorgeous Jennifer and the talented Neely are doomed.

I expected my cousin to like Neely instead, but you know what?  We Midwestern girls may not know how to fix garages or garden but we do have common sense.