Oh Heavenly Days

February 5, 2013 at 8:44 pm (Events, JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

DSC02517My post today is supposed to be  an update of last night’s book club meeting at Half Price Books in Humble.  We discussed Geraldine Brooks’ March, Alcott’s Little Women, Bronson Alcott, Fruitlands, and more.  Gigi’s Cupcakes in The Woodlands donated a half dozen cupcakes (which are more like really rich mounds of awesomeness than your typical idea of a cupcake) and mid way through the discussion and a bit of double vanilla icing melting in my mouth, all my very southern self could  think was “Oh My Heavenly Days.”  The I-literally-feel-like-I-am-in-heaven version of that line, not the rolling of the eyes sarcastic version… you fellow southerners know the very huge difference.

The discussion was awesome. I am quite enjoying this little once a month activity. I love how prepared my gentleman patron comes, with several books and research in tow.  I love yacking aimlessly on end about our likes and dislikes and anything about the book that has moved us that much.  Add in free cupcakes from GiGi’s and I feel as though we have created a true little slice of heaven tucked away in the corner of Half Price Books.

As far as the discussion of March was concerned, one thing that was agreed upon was the difficulty in reconciling the characters Brook created with the characters we all know and love from Little Women.  How did such a hot-headed Marmee become such a controlled and beautifully calm version we read in Alcott’s original work? Things that Brooks clearly well researched don’t mesh with the feel we have for the same history growing up in the States. One thing that stuck out in our minds, as a group, is whether Marmee would have actually gone and stayed under the same roof with the character Grace.  What do you think? It’s not too late to join the discussion, leave your thoughts in a comment or come to the meeting next month.

We also agreed on a memorable quote that made an appearance quite early in the novel:

“For to know a man’s library is, in some measure, to know his mind. And this mind was noble in its reach, wide in its interests, discerning in its tastes.” – pg. 18-19

Of course a group of bibliophiles would enjoy that one, of course.

January 2013 078I am still reading Eden’s Outcasts, a book about Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May.  I believe I expressed this opinion last night, so I shall re-hash it here, and will probably say it again when I provide an official review of the biography… Bronson Alcott was a weird dude.

Louisa May Alcott’s father was a true transcendentalist, and with that come some shocking beliefs to someone raised as I was.  To have your sole guide to life be your own conscious is rather difficult when your conscious moves you to establish a commune with other transcendentalists.   Fruitlands became a commune of many differing beliefs and activities that never seemed to find a happy balance.  You have one member running the place naked with another member refusing to farm, another with children, and others anti-children.  The only common belief system to educate and be separate from the world.  In Bronson Alcott’s attempt to create a heavenly utopia he created a hot mess, which upon seeing it I would exclaim in sarcasm now: Oh My Heavenly Days.

I am amazed that Louisa May Alcott came out mostly well adjusted. I am not, however, surprised that the story of Little Women in a happy little world to lose yourself.  Little Women functions as a biography of the best versions of her family brought to life in fiction, all the strange and unhappy parts discarded probably for the sake of sanity.

That brings me back to Geraldine Brooks’ March.  March is a much darker, sinister, true to life version of the tale of Little Women and Mr. and Mrs. March.  It is a grown ups history.  I think what is most difficult is reconciling the fictional tale of Little Women with the very real feeling war novel of March.  There are some details here and there that ring false, but for the most part it is graphically realistic of some pieces of the Civil War.  It captures the darker sides of human nature that Little Women does not address, things that coming from an abolitionist’s family Louisa might have been very familiar.

What do you think?

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March

January 16, 2013 at 12:39 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

march300-196x300Title: March

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Publisher: Penguin Books

Length: 280 pages

When I first selected March for the HPB Humble Book Club, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was getting myself into. I knew two things: it had been on my TBR for quite sometime and it had been quite popular with private book clubs in the area. By the cover and Geraldine Brooks reputation, I assumed it was some kind of historical fiction and that it was most likely to be something I considered good. I had not yet discovered that it was the story of Mr.March while off at war and Marmee. I did not realize I’d be reading back story on characters I’ve loved my whole life.

Geraldine Brooks’ writing is impeccable, amazing. It should be, she won a Pulitzer for this incredible book. I love the story.

Marmee Sarandon

I was ten when Susan Sarandon appeared in Little Women. It was not the first version of the movie I saw, nor the last; but as I watched the movie and re-read Little Women for the first time she became and still remains my favorite Marmee.

The problem is, I had an image of these wonderful people in my mind, an image I held onto for years and years.  From the first time I read the book to the last time I re-read the book, through every movie adaptation, Marmee and Mr. March, though less present than the other characters, were pillars of perfect parenting, virtue, and strength.  Brooks doesn’t take that away exactly, but she makes them so human it’s a bit disconcerting.

It’s like the first time you see pictures of your own parents at parties when they were young, before you were around.  Or, the moment you come home at the proper time after prom to discover they are nowhere to be found and when you call them they are at some event you were unaware of, laughing and joking.  In those moments you think, ‘Wow, they have a life.’  Marmee and Mr. March weren’t exactly having a party, most of the book is about the devastation of slavery and the civil war.  Still, that moment you read about Marmee and Mr. March making passionate love in the woods before they were married, a tryst that resulted in Meg, you think: ‘No! I didn’t want to know that about them!’

At the same time, there’s something magical about the way Brooks has managed to weave a new tale from and into an old one.  To take a small little quote about the girls missing their father who was so far away where the fighting was and turn it into a very distinct and unique piece of work, to read the telegram insisting Mrs. March go to her ill husband and have a whole life story revealed, it’s simply breath-taking and a bit of genius.  It is all very excellent.  It just isn’t what I had imagined for them myself.

Granted, many say Brooks based the story off of Louisa May Alcott’s own family life, as Alcott had written Little Women with the same background in mind.  With that said, it stands to reason that Brooks book probably honors the author and her own imagination well.

mr march paper dollsStill, I go back to my eight year old self (the first time I read Little Women) every time I re-read the book.  The magic of books is that they may always take you back to a moment, a bit of time in your life where your mindset was a certain way, the feeling you had the first time you read those lines… like a song that gives you chills decades after it has made you cry.  Geraldine Brooks’ March, though beautiful and epic, doesn’t fit with my eight year old Little Women reading self.  There’s a disenchantment there.

The book is a dichotomy that flusters me to my core.  To love a book so much and to be equally indignant about it is frustrating.

I plan to read Eden’s Outcasts next. It is a biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father.

There will be a meeting to discuss March at Half Price Books in Humble at 7:30 pm.  Join us!

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