March 15th, 2011


Book 26: South Riding by Winifred Holtby

Book 26: South Riding: an English Landscape.
Author: Winifred Holtby, 1936.
Genre: Modern Classic. 1930s Britain. Politics.
Other Details: Hardback 492 pages and 2011 TV tie-in paperback. 560 pages

South Riding was written and takes place in the first years of the 1930s. Its author, Winifred Holtby, wrote it with an awareness that she only had a short time to live and it was published posthumously in 1936, six months after her death at the age of 37. Vera Brittain celebrated the writer in her famous 1940 work Testament of Friendship.

The novel is set in the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire, which was inspired by East Riding where the author grew up and where her mother served as the first woman alderman on the local council. Its focus is upon local government during the Great Depression and charts the rise of social reform. Holtby does this through a group of memorable characters including: Sarah Burton, an idealistic headmistress newly appointed to the local girls' grammar school; Robert Carne of Maythorpe Hall, a gentleman farmer on the brink of bankruptcy; Joe Astell, a socialist fighting for reform; the elderly Mrs Beddows, the first woman Alderman of the district and Lydia Holly, a bright student struggling against the extreme poverty she was born into. The book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for 1936.

I will admit to being daunted by the 5 page list of characters that prefaced the novel. It felt over-whelming though in actuality only a handful were central to the story. It is a novel that has continued to grow on me even after finishing it both in terms of its rich characterisation and appreciating how well Holtby captured rural Yorkshire life during these years. I was also quite taken with the relationship between the conservative Robert Carne and the feminist Sarah Burton. They detest each other from their first meeting and although this is no Jane Austen romance, there is something both classic and quite realistic about how things develop between them.

One of the reasons that one of my reading groups chose this particular novel was that it was getting the 'Andrew Davies treatment' as a BBC series this spring. Davies is well known for a number of adaptations of classic novels including the 1995 Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. In his Introduction to the 2011 tie-in edition he celebrates Holtby's contribution to modern literature and the relevance of this novel especially during a time of worldwide financial troubles. He also does point out that he had only 3 hours to tell this story though it is likely that the BBC production will heighten the novel's profile.

Winifred Holtby's 'South Riding' - recent article on Holtby's forgotten masterpiece and her short life.

# 15 The Way to Xanadu

The Way to Xanadu

Caroline Alexander

Caroline Alexander, in the thrall of Coleridge's poem, Kubla Kahn, seeks to visit the sites that inspired Coleridge's opium-induced dream and romantically exotic poem.

She, of course, visits Mongolia, but also Ethiopia, Kashmir, and, surprisingly, Florida.

I enjoyed this book very much. I've loved the poem since I first read it in my early teens, and it made me realize how much this poem has contributed to my own love of the romatic and exotic.

I loved her travels just for the sheer adventure and exoticism alone, but I was also fascinated by the connections she made to Coleridge and what inspired him to write the poem. I believe that most of her conjectures about what inspired Coleridge are accurate. After all she does have a PHD, and has been fascinated with this poem for most of her life, so she would have extensive knowledge of the subject. It seemed that she almost entered Coleridge's head at times.

I found this book to be a wonderfully readable hybrid of flights of fancy to the most exotic of realms and down-to earth historical and biographical details, etc.. This was a unique little book that was a pleasure to read
El Corazon

32. Xenocide

by Orson Scott Card

Started: March 1, 2011
Finished: March 14, 2011

I enjoyed this book overall despite it getting a bit too complicated and over the top in its philosophizing in the last hundred pages or so. 592 pages. Grade: B+
Total # of books read in 2011: 32
Total # of pages read in 2011: 8,443
ATHF read

Books 16-20: Alan Alda, Young Adult Novels, Education

"You've spent years in a grueling effort to understand the structure and process of human life… I only ask one thing of you: Possess your skills, but don't be possessed by them."
"How much more alive you can feel--even a sense of purpose--knowing there are real lives at the other end of your ministrations, or your art, or your talk, or even your jokes."
"'Who am I who is asking all these questions?' And that, I think was the birth of the humanities…Artists try to say things that can't be said…"
"Look, we're accustomed in our culture to know when a commercial is coming. We know how to turn it off. But love we can't resist."
"If I've ever had a sense of meaning, it's been in simply experiencing my life: just noticing I was alive."
 16. Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda (239 pages) If anyone could ever be called a national treasure, I believe that it is Alan Alda who deserves the title. His second book, in which he reviews, analyzes and comments upon the speeches he's made, is a brilliant mixture of memoir, effective speaking how-to, philosophy, and academia. Being a writer and actor has allowed Alda to become both an expert on and an enthusiast of humanity and life. His book is not only deeply thought-provoking, enlightening, and heartening, but also full of truth (which is not the same thing as honesty). This is a book of the most brilliant, important advice for living. When I read a book, I like to dog-ear passages I like; looks like the whole thing is dog-eared. A brilliant, wonderful book on how to be a human being, reminds me of a philosophic Bill Bryson, and discusses the meaning of science, of work, of art, and even contains the meaning of life. And he's got it exactly right. Grade: A+


17. Green Angel by Alice Hoffman (116 pages) Green, the quiet gardener, is about to turn sixteen when her mother, father, and charming, beautiful sister Aurora are killed in the city in a terrible disaster. Consumed by grief and covered in ash, Green dresses herself in thorns and nails, tough leather, and tattoos herself with dark images, calling herself Ash. Hoffman's tragic fairy tale is lyrical and poetic, beautifully symbolic of human grief--both on a personal and on a universal level--in the face of tragedy and loss. Grade: A


18. The Wave by Todd Strasser (138 pages) When young teacher Ben Ross is teaching his high school history class, he starts an experiment to teach his students how the Nazis could take such a powerful hold over a group, how groupthink and fascism can grow. A powerful, disturbing, thought-provoking young adult novel that places history and psychology in the contemporary setting, generating many unsettling questions. Not particularly a well-written novel (characters are pretty flat, and I'm not sure that a novel is the best medium for this story), but one that is refreshing and highly significant, if not particularly convincing. Grade: B+


19. Behavior Support for Education Paraprofessionals by Will Henson (100 pages) The best behavior-support book I've ever read. First of all, because it is exactly right-on. Developing good, respectful, caring, professional relationships with students is exactly what works when it comes to any sort of success in teaching or disciplining. Treating students as real people, treating them with respect and care, rather than with authoritative orders and demands, truly works. I loved that I was justified and supported, and also reaffirmed. Second, the book provides clear examples, language to use, guidelines and plenty of information. Third, it is truly written for paraeducators and understands and respects their job, but that is not to say that it isn't full of helpful tips for all school staff. Grade: A


20. Drive By by Lynne Ewing (85 pages) Tito's older brother, Jimmy, is killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting. When Tito begins to suspect that his brother was involved in the gangs, his world begins to fall apart. He must reevaluate his friends and neighborhood, and even decide his own future. Though very short (and so, not particularly deep) and written at a very low reading level, this book is dramatic and unflinching, even matter-of-fact, a needed look at the horrors that, tragically, many young kids must face and deal with. Grade: A

2011 Page Total: 4263
did you know you could fly?

(no subject)

Book #18 -- Daisy Whitney, The Mockingbirds, 339 pages.

This book should be required reading in high school. Seriously. Alex attends Themis Academy - a super-elite private boarding school. The Themis faculty and administration pride themselves on the stellar quality of their students, and as such are willfully ignorant of anything that might tarnish the school's reputation - surely perfect Themis students would never do anything wrong.

So when Alex is date raped by another student, the only ones she can turn to for help are the Mockingbirds, a secret 'court' of students dedicated to doing what the administration won't - investigating student misconduct and protecting the victims.

There are plenty of books out there about rape. Some of them are quite good. But this one is amazing in that it deals with the slippery kind of rape - the one that far too many apologists try to excuse as not really being rape rape. As if rape needed qualification.

There is nothing black and white about this story. Alex is hardly the perfect victim. She was drinking and voluntarily entered her rapists' room. In addition, the Mockingbirds themselves are clearly a form of vigilante justice, and fall into a rather murky moral realm.

It's wonderful to read a book that acknowledges that rape is not only or even often the big bad man grabbing the poor defenseless woman off the streets. This book faces all the excuses head on and exposes each one as the lie it is. Women who drink do not deserve to be raped. Women who make bad choices do not deserve to be raped. Women who engage in consensual sexual activity do not deserve to be raped. A lack of "no" is not a "yes".

Progress toward goals: 74/365 = 20.3%

Books: 18/100 = 18.0%

Pages: 5182/30000 = 17.3%

2011 Book List

cross-posted to 15000pages, 50bookchallenge, and gwynraven