Archive for category Book Project

Happy Birthday Laura Ingalls Wilder (Book 3)

Posted by on Monday, 7 February, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born today, February 7, in 1867. For book 3 of my 365 part series, I read Little House in the Big Woods, a novel about a little brown haired girl named Laura Ingalls living in the woods of Wisconsin.

Laura Ingalls WilderLittle House in the Big Woods is an easy read, more geared toward children than adults, however there are some interesting parts of the book that I didn’t pick up on as a child so I am glad I reread it. I remembered the iconic bits – making maple syrup candy in the snow, Ma slapping the bear, and using grated carrot to color fresh churned butter. There are some more subtle points that I didn’t pick up on until I read this book as a grownup.

One of these points happened in the autumn, when 10 year old cousin Charley and his father, Uncle Henry, came to help Pa with the oat harvest. Aunt Polly helped Ma in the house and the younger children played in the yard but there was so much work to be done that Pa and Uncle Henry drafted Charley to help out in the fields. As Laura wrote,

Charley did not want to go to the field. He wanted to stay in the yard and play. But, of course, he did not say so.

Duh. Of course he did not say so because if he did object to helping out in the fields, he would be whipped. Pa and Ma also gossiped about Uncle Henry, Aunt Polly, and Charley, saying that Charley was spoiled because he did not have to put in a full day’s work. This makes me laugh and laugh just thinking about their tongues wagging about our children today and how they are never properly worked or disciplined.

So Charley heads out to the fields with the men to fetch water and whetstones with a sullen attitude any parent of a teenager would recognize. Rather than help out, Charley plays tricks on his father and uncle, hiding the whetstone, getting in the way, and other general unhelpfulness. Somehow he gets the idea in his head to head across the field and scream like he is being attacked or injured. This brings both Pa and Uncle Henry running as there are snakes in the nearby field. Cousin Charley laughs like this is the funniest thing ever. After being fooled a couple of times, Pa and Uncle Henry ignore Charley’s screams. When he continues to shout and cry, however, they finally head over to him only to find he was jumping up and down in a yellow jackets’ nest while being stung all over his body. They send him home where his mom and aunt undress him and pack him in earth to take down the swelling.

As a child, the pioneer cautionary tale of Charley and the bees is scary because it sounds painful. As an adult, I know that Charley could have died from so many bee stings. So when Pa snarked, “it served the little liar right”, I was taken aback. No one deserves to be stung all over their body, even a 10 year old playing an inappropriate prank.

There are a few incidents in the book that made me look askance at Laura Ingalls Wilder and wonder just how much compassion she had for others. All and all it was a good book but I am not sure I’d describe Laura as a kind woman based on the stories she told. Regardless, happy birthday Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder!

Book 2: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Posted by on Monday, 31 January, 2011

WARNING: Plot Spoilers

On a whim, I picked up The Time Traveler’s Wife at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Normally, this is not a book I would seek out but expanding my reading horizons is the whole idea behind this project so I took a chance.

To sum up my feelings about this book in one word, meh.

I heard the book made it to the big screen but since I moved to Europe, I have only seen one movie and The Time Traveler’s Wife was not it. Incidentally, the author, Audrey Niffenegger, denied seeing the movie as well because she believed the script was written with 13 year old girls as the target audience.

Honestly, that would make sense. A few nitpicky issues with the book, such as when Clare gives birth, she is shaved immediately prior to being wheeled into labor and delivery. Shaving before birth happened with my mother’s generation but is not standard practice today, in Clare’s reality.

Also, there was exactly one historical event documented in the novel, September 11th. It felt cheap, like the politicians that break out the rhetoric just before they bash their opponents. I remember September 11th well. I also remember the day Reagan was shot. The day the Berlin Wall fell. There are a lot of important historical days to remember, not just September 11, 2001 yet it was the only one mentioned.

The plot of the book is a mix of love story and time travel told from the point of view of the main characters, Clare and Henry. The time traveler, Henry, suffers from a genetic condition that causes him to shift through time without warning, arriving at different periods of time, naked and starving. Since the world isn’t so accommodating to randomly materializing naked guys, Henry learns to pick pockets and locks, lie and steal, and generally conduct himself like a sly criminal. The details of the time travel are well documented in The Time Traveler’s Wife, it is the love story that ultimately is problematic.

The bigger issue that dooms the book is the love story between Clare and Henry. Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 after Henry time travels to the meadow near Clare’s childhood home. She accepts Henry’s crazy explanation for his presence and helps him with his food and clothing situations. Through the years, Henry materializes in this same meadow and starts a big brother-esque relationship with Clare – albeit a weird big brother who appears naked periodically. She hides him in her basement and brings him inappropriate food and her father’s castoff clothing.

In Henry’s reality, he doesn’t meet Clare until he is 28. She is 6 years younger and a college student. Confusing, no? Clare holds knowledge of her relationship with Henry that hasn’t happened to him yet and as time goes on, Henry travels to the future and learns what lies ahead of Clare. It is destiny, or so the author would have us believe.

Perhaps the book is better suited for teenage girls who still think that one cannot live without the great love in their life. I am a little beyond the teenage girl star-crossed lover stage, probably obvious by the Berlin Wall reference.

Audrey Niffenegger’s birthday is June 13th. Other writers she shares a birthday with include, poet William Yates, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester (Don Juan), and Marcel Theroux (The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: a paper chase), saving me from reading any of their works.

Book #1: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Posted by on Tuesday, 21 December, 2010

For my first book, I decided to start with some light reading: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Although this book was published early in the 2oth century, it remains topical even today. If you don’t believe me, and really why would you, ask Glenn Beck:

Ah Glenn Beck. If I wanted to waste money on postage, I’d send him my copy of The Jungle when I finish it. Upton Sinclair intended The Jungle to be a commentary on worker’s rights but instead his 36 part serial caused an uproar over food safety. It was first published in 1905 in a socialist magazine and later printed in February 1906. President Teddy Roosevelt, the very one Glenn Beck derides, called Sinclair a crackpot and sent investigators to establish the validity of his claims. Not long afterward, the original food and safety act was signed into law.

From the FDA’s website:

In fact, the nauseating condition of the meat-packing industry that Upton Sinclair captured in The Jungle was the final precipitating force behind both a meat inspection law and a comprehensive food and drug law.

Upton Sinclair might have changed the food regulation laws in the United States but from the opening scene, the focus is on the plight of the workers.

The book begins with the wedding of Jurgis and Ona, two Lithuanian immigrants and working stiffs. At the urging of family, the couple arranges a wedding ceremony in keeping with Lithuanian tradition. Part of this tradition means that everyone in the community is provided with food and drink by the married couple, only to be paid back later in the evening with extra to start the couple on their life together. Things in America are a bit different and Jurgis ends up being cheated by vendors and partygoers alike. Jurgis responds to this with his typical, I will work harder.

And so far, every roadblock and cheat that Jurgis encounters is met with I will work harder. Sounds like a bootstrapper motto. Somehow I don’t believe that will work for him.

Happy Birthday Upton Sinclair: September, 20th!

Read The Jungle or listen to the audiobook free at Project Gutenberg.