Back to The Classics Novella: The Mountain Lion

The Mountain Lion By Jean Stafford:

The Mountain Lion

I don’t want to write a long review of this one.  I am counting it for my novella in the Back to the Classics challenge.  It is on the long side for a novella: 230 pages. I have a second-hand paperback that I picked up at a thrift store about four years ago.  If it hadn’t caught my eye, I doubt I would have heard of it. It languished on my shelf for quite awhile as it was. I was afraid of it. Much of my life, I’ve had a fear of animals.

Jean Stafford was a Catholic woman and this book was first published in 1947.  So, very much calculated to interest me when I brought the book home and looked more closely.  The pages of my copy are aged and mellowed to a honey.

The main characters of the book, Ralph and Molly Fawcett, brother and sister, also begin with a fear of animals.  That they are afraid of cows, but would never admit it, is one of the first things we learn about them. Molly never outgrows a deep, unreasoning fear of snakes.  They are afraid of horses but they face that and become skilled riders, acting on a desire deeper than fear. Then there is the mountain lion, shuddered at by Molly, loved and hunted by Ralph.

This was the best new book I have read all year.  At one point, there is an extended reflection by one of the characters on the color gold.  This book was gold, all the way through. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to stop and copy a sentence, a paragraph, but was too eager for the next one.

I’ve recently read Out Stealing Horses and Peace Like A River.  Books treating the spell of the American West, books with horses, guns, sibling relationships, and fathers.  All those thematic currents carried into The Mountain Lion. They were all good books. But this was the best of the three.

You will love, without pitying, the hating and hated Molly.  I didn’t even pity Ralph, even at end, but I hope you love him too.  The book is charged with the increasingly anguished and complicated love between the two of them.  Charged. It is tensely luminous, like a mountain lion.

-Mrs. Aldertree


More Early Chapter Books

My 9 yr old still needs lots of reading practice but she’s out grown the early readers. It’s hard to find engaging books at this level but here are a few more we’ve enjoyed reading together:

Diva and Flea by Mo Willems illustrated by Tony Diterlizzi

A funny little chapter book with great illustrations on every page. It has everything my 9 yr old loves in a book: cats, dogs, lovely illustrations, short chapters and easy to read type.

Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant

These are a cute series they have nice illustrations on nearly every page and nice short chapters. They are quiet, innocent stories about the three cousins’ daily adventures.

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry

These are a funny series! They also had some themes on writing and poetry which my 9yr old liked since she loves to recite and read poems.

More Early Chapter books you might enjoy. 

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.


Giants In The Earth

Giants in the Earth
by O. E. Rolvaag

After finishing Kristin Lavransdatter, I knew I wanted to read Giants in the Earth from my challenge list next.  Like Kristin Lavransdatter, Giants in the Earth was originally written in Norwegian. The author, a Norwegian-American, worked closely with the translator.  It also turned out that Giants in the Earth, the first volume of a trilogy, is, like the individual volumes of the Kristin trilogy, not really a book that stands alone.

Giants in the Earth is about a family travelling West and settling in Minnesota after emigrating from Norway.  They are homesteaders, like the family in the Little House series. Readers of Laura Ingalls Wilder will recognize some of the landmark events that she describes: the long winter, the grasshopper plagues.  Like Laura and her family, Per and his neighbors twist straw to burn when other fuel gives out. Giants in the Earth doesn’t have the fascinating, layered detail of either the Little House books or Kristin Lavransdatter though.  Its style is much sparer, more impressionistic. And my impression of the pioneers’ task in this novel was that they had to more or less terraform their own planet, parts that had not been inhabited except by nomadic Indians. The soil is rich, the wheat grows like magic. But the prairie strikes back in unexpected ways. The author draws attention to the pioneers’ unanimous testimony that there was no animal, bird or insect life in the plains as they found them — until the spring mosquitoes appeared. In this blank slate of a world, with its sublime skies and sun effects, Per sees irresistible opportunity and his wife Beret sees a totally alien existence on the edge of an abyss.  The spare style reflects her deep experience of impoverishment.

Reading Giants in the Earth directly after Kristin Lavransdatter, the impoverishment was glaring.  Leaving an Old World culture to build society from scratch was not the only crisis that brought the Norwegian immigrants to their reduced state.  Between the world of Kristin and the world of Giants in the Earth, the Reformation made most of Sweden Lutheran, scouring the spiritual landscape of the people of its sacramental richness.  Toward the end of Rolvaag’s novel, a minister comes to establish a congregation in the young Norwegian-American community. We see him sweating over a spiritual responsibility that no man can take upon himself in his preparations for a Communion service.  When we were still going to a Presbyterian church, I remember watching the sweat roll down the temples of our Scandinavian minister as he said the words of institution over the unleavened bread, the juice. Reading Rolvaag, I was reminded of the mental anguish and spiritual travail I witnessed then.  The minister in his book has no small degree of human wisdom and compassion. On one level he is able to alleviate Beret’s desperate situation. But he leaves her in the grip of a spiritual confusion that eats inward and influences others around her. The book leaves her and her family in a poignant and unresolved state of crisis.

The lack of resolution at the end of the book makes it clear to me that Giants in the Earth is not meant to be read apart from the other two (much less published) books in the trilogy.  I am newly re-fascinated by the pioneer stories that absorbed me in childhood and Rolvaag writes compellingly so I doubt the year will pass before I seek out the later installments of his saga of the prairie. 

-Mrs. Aldertree

The House of The Seven Gables

So far, for my 2019 Back to The Classics Challenge, I’ve read House of The Seven Gables, The Power and The Glory and the first two Volumes of Kristin Lavransdatter. (I hope to finish The third volume this Feb.)

  1. 19th Century Classic:


I found The House of The Seven Gables By Nathaniel Hawthorne a hard book to get into. The language was rather dense and the plot slow moving. But Hawthorne pulled it together nicely in the end. I was pleasantly surprised by the quick clip the ending took-  it was gothic, romantic, and filled with symbolism. In the end it left me wanting to read “The Scarlet Letter.”

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

Reader’s Notes

The Mistress of Husaby (Kristin Lavransdatter, #2)

I just finished the second volume of Kristin Lavransdatter and I’m having a hard time picking up the third. The first two volumes were absorbing, beautiful, and sad. Their wide sweeping action reminded me of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and I want to read on; to know more about these people, their lives, their souls, and yet I know the third one must be about endings so I leave my book on my nightstand for later. 

A sixth’s Graders Back-to-the-Classics list

1.  19th Century Classic

Phantastes or other George MacDonald
She’s started Phantastes already . . .
2. 20th Century Classic
Saint Francis of Assisi: Illustrated Edition (G. K. Chesterton Book 5)
The Ball and the Cross was a Christmas present from Uncle.
3. Classic by a Woman
Mansfield Park (Penguin Classics)
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Our new read-aloud.
4. Classic in Translation
St. Thomas Aquinas by Raissa Maritain
Another present from Uncle.  Started and finished!
5. Classic Comedy
We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome (or The Ball and the Cross)
6. Classic Tragedy
Dandelion Wine or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
She loves science fiction.
7. Very Long Classic
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
8. Novella
Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy (Paperback))
More classic sci-fi.
9. American Classic
Magic for Marigold—The Serialized Version by [L M, Montgomery]
Magic for Marigold by L. M. Montgomery
For the young L.M. Montgomery completist.
10. African, Asian, or Oceanic Classic
The River: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics)
The River by Rumer Godden
11. Local Classic
Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
Eight Cousins was a read-aloud years ago.
12. Play
Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw
Also on her Aunt’s list.  We can have a My Fair Lady party when they finish!
Mrs. Aldertree

Back-To-The-Classics 2019 List

Mrs. Aldertree’s 2019 list can be found here.

Here’s mine:

  1. 19th Century Classic: The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

    A novel I was required to read in High School; I don’t remember much of it.

  2. 20th Century Classic: The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene:

    2018 left me wanting more Greene.

  3. Classic by a Female Author: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.

    I’ve never been able to finish a Cather novel but I’ve always wanted to.

  4. A Classic in Translation: Cancer Ward by by aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    This has been on my reading list for years.

  5. Classic Comedy: Leave it To Psmith by  P.G. Wodehouse 


    You can’t go wrong with Wodehouse.

  6. Classic Tragedy: Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden 

    Another from my reading list

    7. Very Long Classic: Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

    This book has been recommended to me countless times, and I happen to have a beautiful three volume set; I have no excuse.

  7. Novella: The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling
    The Man Who Would Be King: Selected Stories of Rudyard Kipling: Selected Stories of Rudyard Kipling (Penguin Classics) by [Kipling, Rudyard]

    And Kipling 

  8. American Classic: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

    I hear about this novel ALL the time but I’ve never read it, it’s beginning to annoy me.

  9. African/Asian/Oceanic Classic: Green Dolphin Street Elizabeth Goudge

    Another book I’ve been wanting to read for years

  10. Local Classic: A Diary from Dixie by Mary Chestnut
    A DIARY FROM DIXIE, As Written By MARY BOYKIN CHESNUT: Wife of James Chesnut, Jr., United States Senator from South Carolina, 1859-1861, and afterward ... Army (1905) [SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED EDITION]

    I grew up in the South. I felt like my list needed some Nonfiction. 

  11. Play: An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

    An Ideal Husband: By Oscar Wilde - Illustrated

    Reading his Fairy Tales last year, left me wanting to read more of his works. 


-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.


Back-To-The-Classics 2019 List

1. 19th Century Classic: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

The title bothered me.  Madding, not maddening?  I’ve never read a Hardy novel besides Tess.

2. 20th Century Classic: The Long Loneliness  by Dorothy Day

I was hoping for a diary/ memoir category.

3. Classic by a Female Author: Silas Marner by George Eliot

I’ve read several Eliot novels.  Maybe this one I’ll finally love.

4. Classic in Translation: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

My favorite book in the second half of high school.  It’s been since then.  It’s been too long.

5. Classic Comedy: The Reivers by William Faulkner

From the South.

6. Classic Tragedy: Washington Square by Henry James

And from the North.

7. Very Long Classic: Black Lamb, Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

Very long indeed. And a memoir.

8. Novella: The Weakling by Francois Mauriac

The Weakling and the Enemy

For the novella slot, it had to be French.

9. American Classic: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair & Giants in the Earth by Ole Rolvaag

Both about US immigrants.  One about industry and people of my heritage.  The other about people of my husband’s heritage, and agriculture.

10. African/Asian/Oceanic Classic: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton  & Kim by Rudyard Kipling

South Africa and my beloved India.

11. Local Classic: The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

The Country of the Pointed Firs by [Jewett, Sarah Orne]
New England.
Less familiar Shakespeare.
-Mrs. Aldertree

Back-to-The-Classics catch up

Author New To You:

Chiam Potok:  The Chosen

I found The Chosen to be a difficult read, not that it was wordy or inaccessible but that I  found the themes at once intriguing and disturbing.  The story is very masculine and focuses on the relationship between two fathers and their sons. It was a harsh read and the ending seemed somewhat incomplete; I was looking for some reconciliation.


A book that scares you

Henry James: The Turn of The Screw 

The Turn of the Screw: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism)

I originally choose Les Miserables and got to page 868 before calling it quits.  So I decided to try another book to complete the category.  After reading Mrs. Aldertree’s review, I picked  The Turn of The Screw  It was excellent, two weeks later I’m still pondering this exquisite tale by Henry James.


A Classic Crime

A. A. Milne: Red House Mystery 

The Red House Mystery (Illustrated)

I choose Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne mostly because I was delightfully surprised to find that this book existed at all! I knew Milne was a playwright but I didn’t realize he also wrote novels. The Red House Mystery was a fun read, filled with witty dialogue and humor, I also enjoyed all the Sherlock Holmes references having finally read some Sherlock earlier this year. Not a serious read at all, I found it to be a bit of a satire on the whole murder mystery novel phenomenon.

A reread

Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited 

Brideshead Revisted was worth the reread. Reading it again I found myself ready to love the characters, the plot, the dialogue, the imagery all the more. It is a beautiful book about God’s grace and the unusual ways He pours it out to us even when we resist. I realized it was more than a story of a soul, it was a story of many souls. Some resisting grace despite their longings to be With God, others trying to accept it. As I read the last few pages of the book a verse I pray often when anxious came to me again:

26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:26-28

The perfect book with which to end the year.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

7. A Classic Travel or Journey Narrative: Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl was the most surprising book on my back-to-The-Classics list.  Heyerdahl convinces five other courageous scholars to go on a journey to prove his migration theory, a theory that  went against all expert opinion and advice.  The six scholars, with no previous sailing experience (!), staked their lives on Heyerdahl’s ridiculed theory and together, based on an ancient design, they built a  balsa wood raft and set sail on an epic sea journey that would last 104 days.

I thought the book was going to be dry and filled with nautical jargon but  I found its diction accessible and the narrative surprisingly lighthearted; I laughed out loud several times. It is an adventure story through and through, filled with daring and exhilarating  audacity, every young boy should have a copy on his shelf.

It should also be on the shelves of any naturalist, as the explorers catalogued their observations and discoveries (they even observed a fish that was thought to be extinct!) in their nature journals.

I was struck by the men’s jovial companionship, their ability to keep an atmosphere of learning despite adverse conditions; they brought several books and journals along, used them frequently, and cared for them while sailing across the sea in a wet raft!

It was a fortuitous read; I found unexpected friendship and encouragement between the pages and a renewed sense of wonder. Kon-Tiki showed me  that expert opinions can be overrated, lost arts can be resurrected, education is a lifelong endeavor, and building an atmosphere of learning can be done in the harshest of conditions.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.