Saturday, June 11, 2016

Summer Reading List: Review Time!

While I haven't been having a 'summer of leisure,' (what is that, exactly, anyway?) I have had ample opportunity to read. (Not having cable is an enormous help, I might add.) I also have every Saturday and Tuesday off, so amid family time and the usual round of chores and writing commitments and writing class I've been working my way through my list. A week or so ago I posted the Kick-Off, with Orchid Fever; today I have three others for you.

  This book was less about Gudrid the Far-Traveler herself, and more of the study of Viking-era Iceland, Greenland and North America, which I find fascinating, and so was not disappointed. More of Gudrid's life would have been a bonus, but we are talking the Viking era of exploration here. Much of her history is tied up in legend and saga, but what is known is that she crossed the Atlantic Ocean 7 times. 7. I haven't even crossed it once. She also made a pilgrimage to Rome in approximately 1025.
   The descriptions of Viking life-primarily a woman's life-was definitely the most engrossing aspect of this book (for me at least.) Discussions of weaving given by modern scholars, and the value of the cloth made by women, as well as the household products they made (cheese, ales, henwifery, etc.) have long been overshadowed by the image of the burly war-crazed horned-helmeted Viking warrior. Not that there isn't truth to that image, and I am a product of that heritage, but if the women weren't back in the home providing food and clothing for those men, Rome's history may have been very different.

   Oh, this book. I am not a huge Mary Shelley fan. Frankenstein is a great book, Maurice is pretty good as well, but that is all I have read of her work. I will read her History of a Six Weeks' Tour at some point, as a companion to her mother's Letters From Sweden; otherwise, I'm all set. Ironically, Mary Wollstonecraft's Letters From Sweden features several descriptions about her baby, Fanny (Imlay) Wollstonecraft. Her younger daughter's History of a Six Weeks' Tour was written after Mary decamped with the married Percy Shelley and her sister Claire Clairmont, abandoning the hapless Fanny to the rages of her resentful stepmother, her indifferent 'father' William Godwin, who had doted on Fanny as a small girl then professed disinterest and annoyance with her as she grew older (she was a 'burden' that he would not allow to leave home to go live with her mother's sisters in Ireland.)

   "She brooded alone over a missing letter from Aunt Everina, wondering whether Godwin had received and replied to it. If so, what had he said? What could they be plotting? At the back of her mind was always the sense of her diminished future, the life of school-teaching in Ireland which, as matters continued to deteriorate in Skinner St., Mrs. Godwin must often have told her to prepare for." ~pg 183  She probably would have been better off. As it were, she never had a chance to have her own life.
    A very interesting point is made concerning a gift the Shelley's bought Fanny while in Europe: "...he and Mary went into Geneva and bought a gold Swiss watch for Fanny back in London. It was an appropriate gift: in times of sudden poverty Shelley would part easily with his own gold watch; Fanny, in thrall to others [including Mary and Shelly, who were fond of her only when they wanted something from her, and who despised her for her lack of courage in not running from home when she was of no further use to them- NKP], was more in need of keeping time." ~pg 200
   Ultimately, Fanny Wollstonecraft was the sacrifice of a party of people who refused to recognize the value of the gentle, unassuming soul in their midst.

I love reading books about Arctic and Antarctic exploration of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I don't know why. I live in New England and hate being cold. Therefore, it is most obvious that I will never ever visit either of those locations. I think the draw is the sheer bravery and bravado of the explorers, mostly men, though some few women experienced the dangers as well, such as Ada Blackjack in 1923. This book is a history of an expedition that was all wrong from the start. Organized by an egomaniac that had never been to Wrangel Island but had no hesitation in sending four young men in their twenties up to explore and claim it for Great Britain (it's a Russian territory, and was back then as well), underfunded and under-supplied, the explorers never stood a chance. Add to the mix a frightened woman who didn't quite understand what she was doing there and was unclear of cultural differences and it's a well-mixed recipe for disaster.  Ada Blackjack Johnson spent the remainder of her life trying to forget the nightmare she lived for two years on Wrangel Island.

I am currently working on White Heat: the Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. It is slow-going, mostly because I'm taking notes every page. Thus far it is easy to see why they had such a strong friendship despite their differences. Her poetry was enigmatic and mysterious, while Higginson was of direct and straight-forward thought, yet they transmuted their vision onto each other, able to read and understand the truth of each other's thoughts within their writing.

Wednesday will see new updates to Lulu's Library, as school will be over for my Little Guy and he is going to sign up for our library's Summer Reading Program. He has informed me that he is going to read "all the Magic Tree House books." There are 55 of them. He has read 12 this year in school. We'll see how far we get! 

What are you reading? I'd love to know. Drop me a line. Happy reading everyone!

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