"And Ladies Of The Club 3"

I finished reading the book this afternoon. What a totally satisfying read, both for the story and for the writing. I love English well spoken and these characters are set in a time when it was. By the time I got to page 1000 I was beginning to wish I wasn't so close to the end. Ironic when you think there were over 400 pages left and lots of the books I read don't have that many to begin with. But by then I was deeply  involved in the story and cared about the main character, Anne. 

The story covers 1868 to1932 and manages the time span quite well. There was only one jump of two years that threw me off a little. I had to go back and re-read it to see what exactly had happened, but that's more a fault of my wandering mind than the story.

There are many families in the story and toward the end I wasn't able to keep up with who married who and all their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I see that as a positive in this story. Anne's life was the core of the book and as she aged her world became more and more narrow while all that living went on around her. I think the author was ingenious in allowing the reader to share some of the isolation and confusion the main character was experiencing as her own life wound down.

Throughout the book there is seamless transitioning from one character, household and workplace to another. With so many characters it can't be easy to develop each one in a way that you feel you know enough about them. Santmyer has the enviable skill of leading you through their lives without even realizing you've moved on from one to another. By the time you wonder what's happening with someone, you're back into their lives and catching up.

American politics was a continuing background story in the book. I confess there were times when I skipped through a paragraph or two simply because I'm not an American and have no great interest in their political history. Having said that though, I have to say also that the political story is at times an integral part of the bigger story and in no way interfered with my enjoyment of it.

As I said in an earlier post, the Ladies Club is a literary club. I found their meetings fascinating just because they are so totally different than the meetings of the Book Club I belong to. Their club demanded far more from their members than mine does. To be assigned a topic and required to stand up and present an essay on it would send most of us running. We choose books and though one person is assigned to lead the discussion, it is usually just a matter of telling a bit about the author and preparing questions to get the others talking. With over 60 years "in" the Ladies' Club however, I'm now intrigued with the idea of doing more. Maybe we should stretch ourselves a little and try something new.

I acquired a little knowledge about the Temperance Crusade from this book. I wasn't very familiar with how it affected ordinary people or how churches were involved. It was interesting to see how it fit into the lives of the characters and how important it was to some and how trivial to others.

Religion was at least a part of most people's lives in the time period the book covers, but as always, there was a wide variety of beliefs. Some characters were Christians, others called themselves Christians because they believed in God, and others wanted nothing to do with any of it. Many characters prayed and attended church, and yet were class conscious, with firm ideas about who was acceptable and who wasn't. Parents were appalled when their children chose spouses considered below them. Social occasions were for the acceptable classes only. As in many stories, Christianity is treated lightly and inaccurately. There would be no room for class consciousness or judgementalism in true Christianity, for Christians are instructed to consider others better than themselves, and invite to their dinners those who can't repay. I hear much about the decline of the church in this 21st century, but I see more acceptance of all people in today's believers than I read about in history.

When I came to the end of the book, I was satisfied. I had expected to feel badly about leaving all those people behind, but the story ended perfectly, not in the middle of a life, but at the close of it, leaving no wondering how things would work out if the story continued.

I will recommend this book to all the avid readers I know. I have one request to borrow it already. For anyone who's looking for a great read, absorbing and entertaining, this is it. I'm looking forward to reading the author's other novels.

Next up: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

"And Ladies Of The Club 2"

I'm halfway through the book. I've been enjoying reading it, but it wasn't till the last 100 or so pages that I've been truly drawn in by the characters and their stories. I'm beginning to care about the "ladies of the club" and the things that happen to them.

Very close to the middle of the book, there is a death of a young girl that makes all the characters seem much more like real people, which I guess just means more like people I can relate to. I found myself not wanting her to die because I wanted to see how her life would unfold. She was interesting. Now I'm eager to see how the story develops without her.

"And Ladies Of The Club"

"And Ladies of The Club" by Helen Hooven Santmyer

Oh my goodness - this book is huge! I don't think I've ever seen a thicker paperback. It has 1433 pages and I'm on 358 so I'll be talking about it for a while. I bought it because: 1. I liked the title, which works for me sometimes and other times not so much, and 2: I always like to get a lot for my money, which I'll blame on Scottish ancestry. I didn't realize "Club" referred to a literary club but I will like it better because of that.

I was a little bored in the beginning and wondered if I would read it all the way through, but now that I'm catching on to who all the characters are and how they are related to one another it's getting better. Well written. Good dialogue. So far so good...

"Chasing The Shore"

"Chasing the Shore" by David Weale

From the first chapter of this book, I held a running conversation in my head with the author. Sometimes it was argument, sometimes questioning  and other times it was "Yes! I know exactly what you mean". That alone made it worth the read. I like it when someone makes me re-examine who I am and what I believe about things.

This book is about loving the land and the people, animals and plants that inhabit it. I agree with the author that we have been irresponsible in our treatment of all three and we need to change our ways. If the book had been stories and thoughts about his life on Prince Edward Island and the people he knew there, his appreciation for the land and his ideas on what we can do to better care for it, this might have found it's way onto my list of favorite books. Another of his books, An Island Christmas Reader, is already there. I have made reading it's charming stories and wonderful from-real-life Christmas memories a part of my annual tradition. I feel a peaceful satisfaction when I've read it, as though I've touched a more gentle and innocent time in the midst of our ridiculously commercial present day celebrations. Likewise, in Chasing The Shore, I sympathize with the desire to turn away from the man-made to reconnect with the simple and the natural. But when I finished this book, I didn't feel satisfied, I felt confused. I don't know if the author is laughing at me, judging me or just dismissing me as irrelevant. I know some of that must come from what I bring to the book, but some of it also comes from the book to me. I have to ask why, as someone who believes differently than he does, I am to be excluded from the respect and understanding he prescribes for all.

One of the experiences Mr. Weale shares, he calls "thin moments". I think, as he does, that these moments are common to all of us; we just call them something else, and we each draw our own conclusions from them. He is talking about those wonderful moments of perfection that our language doesn't have words to adequately describe. I think of them more as moments when time stops and even becomes irrelevant. When all is right with the world. When I am in perfect harmony with everything else and everything feels like it is as it should be. To me they aren't "thin" so much as "more" moments because that's what it feels like I've been given, a glimpse into a place where "more" is normal. It's like touching God. I can remember those times with more clarity than a photograph.

I remember one that happened when my granddaughter was 2 years old. She was dressed in a frothy white outfit, looking angelic with her pale blond curls and trusting blue eyes. She was standing on a kitchen chair and was reaching up with her arms for me to pick her up. Time stopped. It would be impossible to make anyone else understand what happened in those few seconds. I felt that we were part of the same life force that I call God, and that made us part of each other. It was all that was needed. It was perfect. It was crystal clear. And then it was over and she was wiping ketchup on my sleeve.

But back to the book.

The author makes it clear that he has no tolerance for the church. It is unfortunate that his experience has given him a skewed and sometimes bitter picture of Christianity. When what is meant to be loving and freeing is allowed to become judgemental and alienating, terrible damage is done. His lack of affection for the church is sad, but understandable. It seems though, that what he does is throw away one religion for another. And as much as he dislikes religious people making judgements and setting rules, I feel that he's doing the same thing. He is judging those who haven't thrown out their old beliefs and is preaching his own version of what it means to be spiritual. He calls Christianity "illness". Are all who live a different kind of spirituality than his ill?

Though the author has good arguments for treating nature with more respect, at times he goes too far. He says (pg 47) that when Frances Schaffer wrote "Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation, in every age must be judged by this test: How did it treat people?", he was "sanctioning cruelty" toward other life forms, even if inadvertently. I think most people understand that suggesting good behaviour in one area is never meant to be also suggesting bad behaviour in another. If we're going to respect people, we have to give them credit for some intelligence.

As I got further into the book, I wished so much that he would stop talking about religion and get back to his wonderful descriptions of the island and it's inhabitants. But it was not to be. Statements like "...this is what I am - the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen." made it hard to keep taking him seriously. When he said "surely it is less blasphemous to believe I am God, than to imagine that I am not", I gave up.

 I do enjoy reading Mr. Weale's writing and will think about reading more of his books. I have to say though, enough with the metaphors. Now I like a metaphor as well as the next person, it may even be my favorite figure of speech, but a few chapters into this book I was beginning to suffer from metaphor exhaustion. I think it was because they all, no matter the inspiration, made the same statement. Every dream, animal encounter, beautiful scene etc. is interpreted as a sign of our inner yearning to break away from our constraints, reconnect with nature and be free. He can interpret things any way he believes is right, but it does become monotonous for the reader when the same insight is discovered and repeated chapter after chapter. 

One final thing. Page 114 says "we need to bring forth from deep within ourselves, a new, or greatly revised, mythology, that transcends tribal conciousness; one that honors the entire earth and expands the concept of holy land in such a way that every square foot of landscape, every drop in the ocean, and every creature (including ourselves) is regarded as sacred - something to be treated gently and reverently, and experienced as a source of wisdom and communion. That is our challenge." I agree that we need to take better care of the earth. What bothers me is the word mythology. A myth is by definition, not true. But we believe what we believe because we hold it to be the truth. It's impossible to hold true what you know to be myth. If I'm reading it right, the author is suggesting that we deliberately trade in our truth for a story we make up ourselves. It doesn't make any sense, and because it doesn't, it takes away from his credibility and lessens the impact of the important arguments he makes in defense of the land.

"Looking For Class"

“Looking for Class” by Bruce Feiler

I enjoy this author. I like his style and the two books of his that I’ve read are well researched. He can be almost too academic at times, but only for a line or two and then he draws you back in. It is this academic – but not too academic – style that feeds me the history, statistics and other factual information I crave to round out any story.

This window into one of the most prestigious schools on the planet was entertaining, if somewhat disheartening. Some of my admittedly naive illusions about Cambridge were blown away like leaves in a cold Autumn wind. Never having been there myself, my illusions were formed completely from what I read of other’s experiences and – ok I admit it – fiction. I read just about anything, truth or fantasy, that is set in those hallowed halls. I have envied the students, revered the professors, and fabricated an illusion of Cambridge that is dear to me. I have believed it to be a place where intelligent people gather for their favourite activities: study, research, writing and the kind of conversation of which I would like to be capable, but am not.

Giving up this cherished illusion was not something I enjoyed, but facts must be faced. And Mr. Feilier says the facts are that it is not always learning that preoccupies the students. Many don’t attend lectures, but instead waste whole terms in hosting and attending drinking and sex parties. Not so different from other universities I expect, but this is not other universities. This is Cambridge – revered, romantic Cambridge. So much for romance.

I did, however, enjoy reading about Feiler’s year there. His account is both honest and funny. Between the entertaining accounts of his personal encounters and anecdotes about other students we learn something of how the university and it’s colleges are run, the changes that are being made to try to adjust to modern times and what the daily life of a student looks like. Reading the book felt a bit like actually spending a few days at Cambridge; Feiler has the ability to make his experience very real to the reader.

So, I liked this book. And I’m not completely disenchanted. The setting amid old stone buildings and English gardens is still romantic. The students are intelligent. The conversation is at times quick and witty (the debate account is particularly enjoyable), and at others profound and enlightening. I would still go to Cambridge if I had the chance, as a visitor of course; I am neither intelligent nor wealthy enough to attend. It may not be the hallowed place of my illusions, but it still has more than enough charm for a good book.