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4. Children’s Classic: The Wind in The Willows

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Indulge your inner child and read that classic that you somehow missed years ago.”An appealing invitation.  As I suggested previously, it wasn’t that I “somehow missed” The Wind in the Willows, it was that I deliberately avoided it.  I loved the title; I didn’t like the movie.  I was very picky about my talking animal stories (I pretty much liked only Narnia books in that category).  So, though the movie’s theme, “soon, soon you will forget” haunted me with a sweet painfulness, I didn’t read the book.

Would I have liked The Wind in the Willows, if I had read it some thirty years ago? Mr. Toad’s plot with its ups and downs, with its constant sense of threat, and with his mercurial manipulative character would doubtless have made me nervous. I know because it made me nervous even as an adult and there were a few times I skimmed quickly to make sure nothing terrible was about to happen before I could relax and read every word. The constant amused affection with which the author follows the miscreant may have been lost on the younger me.

I’m sure though I would have loved the lyrical chapters starring Rat and Mole. This is where the sehnsucht and the numinous music that I heard in the book’s title come in. There is even a gnostic/pagan/crypto-Christian religious element to be found here, a spiritual dimension akin to the Magic of Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden.

The Wind in the Willows sits in a friendly way next to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia (and, as I saw another blogger mention, to Tolkien). From the descriptions of cozy meals shared by friends and snug underground houses to the aching quality of Joy in its pages, it was as if a band Talking Beasts from Narnian realms had crossed the border into the human world. It was perfect to read curled up on a couch, while the rains and winds, the sleet and snow, of mid-April howled around our house. So, all told, my inner child was satisfied with this one.

 

-Mrs. Aldertree

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2. 20th Century Classic: The End Of The Affair

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A book that leaves you  wanting to read more by and about the author is a success, and when I returned this book to my shelves, I was gladdened to find a few other unread Greene novels. (I love how a library evolves, whenever you read a book and put it away, you see the collection anew. ) I was also  happy to discover that Greene was a catholic and even happier to find that he disliked being called a Catholic novelist; He preferred to be known as a writer who happened to be Catholic.

When I picked out this book for the back to the Classics Challenge, I didn’t know what to expect.  When I started it, I was immediately pulled in. Mid-way through, I became rather comfortable with my projected outcome. But when Greene failed to tie up loose ends, I began to see that the focus and the trajectory of the novel was not at all what I expected. Greene took a sharp and surprisingly mystical turn, a turn that gave me goose-bumps.

The story begins with Bendrix, a writer by profession, recounting the end of his affair with Sarah Miles, the wife of a civil servant Henry Miles. Bendrix is tormented by its end. He describes how, driven with jealousy, he hires a detective to find out if another man was to blame. But instead of uncovering another affair,  Bendrix, a self proclaimed atheist, discovers a beautiful story of a soul.

As the novel moves on, Greene is able to broaden the narrow scope of  first person narration and keep the tone intimate by incorporating letters and Sarah’s diary. The act of writing itself is a reappearing theme in the novel. In fact, there are several stirring scenes that involve the written word. I particularly loved the one where Bendrix discovers Sarah’s childhood books and begins to read her inscriptions inside. And near the end, it is both the detective’s simple letter and Sarah’s juvenile inscriptions that take on spine chilling, mystical and mysterious meanings.

In an age of atheism and rationalism Greene reminds us that religion is still relevant- Catholicism still alive and those who practice it may not find the path easy, most likely they find it to be a constant internal battle with oneself.

The novel ends with Bendrix’s weary prayer,

“O God, you’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone forever”

and that is enough, God can work with that, His heart yearns for souls and His grace is sufficient.

Next on my list Rumer Godden.

Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

2. 20th Century Classic: The Leopard

It had been around ten years since I last read this.  I remembered it was good but remembered hardly anything about it.  I’d been craving a re-read for awhile.

Like Henry Esmond, The Leopard is historical fiction, set well before the time it was written.  Giuseppe di Lampedusa based this, his only novel, on the life of his great-grandfather.  The author’s biography at the end of the book says that he contemplated writing such a book for twenty-five years and only started writing when he was sixty.  He did not live to see it published.  His novel is the fruit of a lifetime lived with books and in conversation about books: a single fruit — round, mellow, perfect, exquisite, and complex.  And, in the end, surprisingly bitter.  It is at once a first novel, charged with beginner’s energy and luck, and the work of a mature talent writing at the height of his powers.
It was as good as, and better than, I remembered.  It evoked Italy so powerfully, and even Sicily, which I’ve never visited, with its glaring sun and slow-moving but dangerous people.  It exposes a heart of darkness in a fiercely traditional society, in which true religion has been eaten away, leaving only its vulnerable outer forms.  It reveals the mean and cowardly spirit that animates the flashy revolution.  In the end, it is full of unbearable regret for something ineffable that might have been.
It is lyrical, sumptuous, and subtle, with a persistent edge of humor and bathos.  I defy anyone to read the chapter where lovers play hide and seek in the labyrinth of a decaying summer palace without at least a moment’s shiver of delight.
– Mrs. Aldertree
Mrs. Aldertree’s full “back to the Classics” challenge list can be found here 

Queen Anne’s Lace

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Each flower is a hand’s span of whiteness

Her body is not so white as
anemone petals nos so smooth-nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to it end
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty , a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over-
or nothing.

William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963

 

What’s On Your Nightstand?

Fast Food Nation  by Eric Schlosser is an amazing read. While I don’t agree with many of his solutions, the terrible and largely unforeseen consequences of Fast Food and Big agriculture are brought to light (and it’s not just about health concerns). Like it or not, the fast food industry has changed the way we farm, eat, advertise and shop. Throughout the book Scholosser seems to be pushing for unions and more government regulations to solve these problems  but in the end it’s about getting people to opt out on a large scale.  It’s informative, gripping, disturbing and yet he also maintains a sense of humor- Investigative journalism at it’s best.

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The Lost Traveller by Antonia White.

I’ve read her first book Frost in May last year and found her storytelling simple and completely engrossing. The second book, The Lost Traveller, is just as engaging and accessible as the first, the characters absorbing and writing clear. I am waiting for the heartbreak though. You sense a tragic tone from the onset.

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I’m also reading (thoroughly skimming?) Nourishing Traditions, rereading Woods Etc., avoiding journaling and in denial about my lack of interest in Theodore Roethke’s  poetry, despite my love for his poem the Root Cellar.

My husband’s nightstand, however, remains focused and avoids such disillusionments:

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What’s on your nightstand this month?