Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Friends by Rosa Guy

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
One of the things I loved about this book is that the back covers makes it seems interesting without giving hardly anything away. You keep getting hit on the head with surprises. I will try not to give anything away here that you don't get from the first chapter. But there is a ton of story that is not even hinted at!

Here are some things you need to know:

1. Phyllisia's last name is Cathy. So when her Dad (who is an enormous jerk) starts yelling about being a Cathy - he is not trying to tell the world that he is a woman. He is just bragging.

2. Edith is really really poor. You are not going to believe how poor.

3. Phyllisia's family has plenty of money. I was picturing them as being from nearly the same neighborhood. (They live in Harlem.) But the Cathys and the Jacksons are as far apart as can be.

4. The slang in this book is hilarious. It was first published in 1973 when I was a mere child and it sounds really dated. Here are my favorite examples with definitions.
boss - (as in "That's a really boss dress!") cool or desirable
gone sister - (as in "You have a really gone sister!") a cool or desirable sibling
dig her the most - (as in "I dig her the most!") I think she is the most cool or desirable.
cop-out - (as in "That ain't no cop-out!) a failure to fulfill a commitment or responsibility or to face a difficulty squarely (That's from answers.com, if you're curious. Its a great place to get definitions, just google the word you want along with the word "definition" and it comes right up.)

There are some sentences that just make me giggle like a loon and I am sure you will see why.

Hey baby, you sure are a fine chick! (Yep, that one always works on me.)
You look bad, really gone! (Remember this is the seventies when this was a compliment.)
and finally -
"My mother thinks he's the most!" (The most what? The most likely to put the moves on your best friend, if this book is any indication.)

One of the reasons I liked "The Friends" so much is because Phyllisia isn't really nice. She is kind of snobby and a little whiny and she has a lot of reasons right from the beginning for being this way. But she doesn't fool herself. She knows how she should act, even if she doesn't always do it. She feels like a real person who makes both good and bad decisions.

Monday, May 15, 2006

If You Liked My Antonia, or If You Just Want to Read Something Else About the Frontier...

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I like a good frontier story. I was trained in this by the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These have a reputation as books for little kids (and I have to admit that I have ripped through Little House in the Big Woods in about 45 minutes) but they are worth reading as a teenager or adult. I would start with By the Shores of Silver Lake.
The Long Winter is downright terrifying. It is the book that I perversely pick up every time there is a snow day in Beverly. Little Town on the Prairie shows that Mean Girls aren’t endemic to the twentieth century. And These Happy Golden Years has an crazy woman with a knife, a little romance and (I hope I am not giving anything away) a wedding. The First Four Years has always been a bit of a let down to me, so I recommend going back to the little kid books because you aren’t going to want to say goodbye to Laura right away.

If you feel you are just too mature for Wilder, you might find these books a litle…well…wilder.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus is written in the voice of a woman sent by her family to an insane asylum for being “difficult”. She is sent out by the US government as part of a plan to gift Cheyenne warriors with white brides. It’s a long story – and a very exciting one – so just take my word for it. Warning – you will cry like a baby and scream out loud while reading this. Its not for the faint of heart.

Also not for the faint of heart (the size of it alone will send many fleeing for the hills) is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. This enormous novel of the west is one of my all time favorite books that I have read only once. I’d pick it up again, but who has the time? There is also an excellent miniseries that is a mere 8 hours long that you might wish to view. It is responsible for my deep and abiding love for Robert Duvall. It is essentially the story of a cattle drive. But there are so many different characters and layers that you can hardly distill it down to a one paragraph description.

The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas is another frontier story that I enjoyed. Once again it is written in the form of a journal. I am sucker for books that are written in the form of journals. I like the feeling of reading someone’s innermost thoughts. Even if they are a made up person. Actually, I prefer it. Who wants to read a real person’s innermost thoughts? Ew. Mattie is surprised to get a marriage proposal from Luke Spenser, the most desirable man in her town. He takes her out west and she tries to build a life there. many things happen that you are not even going to believe and one of the things that happens to a neighbor is so vividly horrifying that it still sometimes makes me queasy to think about it. Perhaps I shouldn’t recommend this after all. Well, too late. Anyway, I am kind of a wimp about these things. I am sure it won’t emotionally scar you the way it did me. Moving on…

Psst…Down here, away from the English teachers. They are crazy with the pronunciation of “Ann-toe-NEE-yah”. Just let them have their way. According to my Aunt Rosie (or if you prefer Rosatchka – her Bohemian name) the Bohemians pronounce the name “ANN-tony-uh”. It still has the long e like Cather explains, but the last three syllables are smooshed together so they almost sound like two. It has the same rhythm as Abraham or Anthony or Apple juice. Of course if the way the majority of reader (at least those without Bohemian grandparents) want to pronounce it, so be it. But you didn't hear it from me.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

All of MY ANTONIA online!

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
While looking around for interesting links I found My Antonia in full text with footnote links that explain every little think. It is probably not that much fun to just read through for a novel, but if you are having a hard time understanding some of the things in the story it could be a huge help.

My Antonia

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
It took me awhile to get through this book, but in the end I loved it! I had a feeling from the beginning that something terrible was going to happen to Antonia and in the scheme of things, it is hard to say if it did or not. Yes, I am trying not to give anything away.

Cather has a lot to say about the immigrant experience. Since my Grandpa is the son of Bohemian immigrants, I found this extremely interesting. As a matter of fact, I have a picture of Baba and Yedda (my great grandparents) on my dining room wall which I imagined as the Cusaks. I found a picture of the "real" Antonia and her family in a biography of Willa Cather at the high school library. I tried to scan it, but the quality just wasn't good enough. But feel free to come take a look in the fall.

Speaking of pictures, I did find a really interesting website that has pictures of many of the real places where the book took place; including the crossroads where the suicide was buried, Jim's house and the house where Antonia eventually lived. They are brought to you by
Nebraska National Register Sites.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

My Antonia - No, MY Antonia!

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
This book is SO much better than I was led to believe it was! I really like it a lot. I have been describing it to people as "Little House on the Prairie" with sex and violence.

A lot of people claim not to like this book. I was internally groaning when I picked it up. The copy on the back of the jacket gives away the story in part. However, I am up to page 178 and so far Antonia is not even married yet!

This book should be called "My Jim" (And I actually started to read a book last called "My Jim" which seemed good, but was confusing and I finally ended up throwing it across the room. But that is a story for another day.) because it is written from the perspective of Jim Burden - who I love. At least so far, he might end up being terrible later, so don't hold me to it.

It does, I must admit, start out a little slow. But by the time you get to the story of Pavel and Peter and the wolves (in chapter 7) you get hooked. I love the little background stories that Cather puts in - like those two Russians or Lena and the obsessed farmer or Blind d'Argent. It is interesting to look at how they relate to the story as a whole. This would be a good essay question. And fun to write because it is the sort of essay where you get to make stuff up and then pull parts of the book to prove your own opinion. Which is, now that I think about it, pretty much the definition of every essay you will ever write in high school English.

Anyway - if you are reading "My Antonia" bravo to you! It is, I think, a little challenging because of all the descriptions but so far, I love it and it is totally worth the extra effort.