On Reading Moby Dick and Moby Dick Big Read

I've been struggling with reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I was never assigned the novel in High School or even as an English Major in Undergrad and Grad school. And I never had any interest. But since my good friend Mark is currently working on a project of which Moby Dick is significantly influential, so I decided to give it a go and added it to my Classics Club Challenge list.

I'm currently on chapter 58 and I'm struggling. There are 136 chapters and I am not quite far enough into the text to power through. I'm languishing. I asked my friend Mark for help. He told me that the book is very flawed and is in need of editing which it didn't receive before it was published. It's disjointed, there are chapters that can be taken out and it was not how Melville intended it to be. Knowing that helps a bit.

Blogger Jill from A Room of One's Own [Update: blog is now defunct] posted about a new online event called Moby Dick Big Read. It started a couple days ago. Each day they post an audio clip of one full chapter being read by a different actor or narrator. They also post some relevant art material. It's such a genius idea! I would have to wait until 11/12 in order to get to the point where I'm at in the book to start the project. I might wait until they get to chapter 50 instead of chapter 58 because the last few chapters I read of Moby Dick didn't quite sink in. Or I might start even earlier! Who knows. The project would be complete by January of 2013. I wanted to finish Moby Dick by the end of this month but I don't think this is the kind of book to be rushed.

Are you going to participate in Moby Dick Big Read?

Questionnaire on Reading & Books - September 2012

I saw this questionnaire on Boston Bibliophile as part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I thought I'd use the same questionnaire for here!

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I don't eat while I read. I make a point not to as I think eating and reading should be savored separately. Doing both at the same time you can't fully appreciate one or the other.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I hate marking books. I avoided it in college. One time I had to mark up a biography about the three Roosevelts. I used pencil but I hated the experience so much. That poor book! I am still traumatized by the experience. I'd rather make notes on separate pieces of paper with page #s and leave the papers inside the book for future reference.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
Bookmark. I'll use anything. Receipts, business cards, empty envelopes, etc. I would never dog-ear a book.

Laying the book flat open?
I live to preserve the spine so I don't do that. I used to work in a bookstore and had to talk to a customer. She spent the entire time opening the spine of a brand new book she didn't even buy. It was quite horrifying. I guess I'm particular about books. :-)

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Non-fiction and fiction is only classics now. I've been dealing with a lot of issues when it comes to Fiction. I just don't find the joy in it I used to. In fact, fiction just angers me right now. I'm not sure what to do about it.

Hard copy or audiobooks? or ebooks?
All of the above. I love hard copies the best but there is nothing quite like a well-narrated audio book. Ebooks are okay but I don't own a eReader. I do use one for work and that's how I read manuscripts and ARCs. Otherwise, I'm more of a hard copy or audio kind of gal.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I have to be able to put down a book at any point. I don't like it but I have to cram in reading whenever I can and sometimes that means only a page or two. I try to read during my lunch breaks at work and at that point I try to finish at least a whole chapter.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Yes. It becomes a bit cumbersome when reading classics. Especially Thomas Hardy!

What are you currently reading?
The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Languages by Steven Pinker (I love linguistics)
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson Book #4 by Robert A. Caro(This book just fascinates me.)
Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy (I love Mad Men and do some advertising for a living. Want to learn more about it)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (for the Classics Club challenge)
Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home by Various(we are in the process of buying a new home)

What is the last book you bought?
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson Book #4 by Robert A. Caro - I saw it at a Barnes & Noble and I just had to have it.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I never read one book at a time. If I did, I'd go crazy. I need several books going at once. I try to read one book for fun, one book for learning and one book for work. But sometimes that doesn't happen. Right now, I'm trying to make sure that I always have one classic novel going so I can keep on track for my Classics Club challenge of reading 50 classics in 5 years.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
I like to read in my car during my lunch break. It's nice quiet time. It's tricky during the summer because my car gets hot!

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Stand-alone books. I'm almost never compelled to read books in a series. If it's a trilogy, maybe, but not a series.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Not really. I like to recommend books based on specific people and circumstances. One book I really loved might not be well received by a lot of people. I do have a talent of placing a particular book with the right person.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
As you can see above, I'm reading a book about buying a new home. We live in a small 2 bedroom condo and a lot of books are in storage. The books I do have out are organized by subject. I have 2 shelves of classic film books, 1 shelf of cookbooks, 1 shelf of literary fiction, 1 tiny shelf of children's books, etc. I have one shelf devoted to books I haven't read and want to read soon. My TBR shelf!

Classic Hollywood Style by Caroline Young

Classic Hollywood Style
by Caroline Young
October 2012
224 pages
Hardcover ISBN 9780711233751
Frances Lincoln

This review originally appeared on my classic film blog Out of the Past.

I cannot tell you how many times someone has come up to me to tell me that my outfit looks like something from an old movie. Or they point out something I would like because it's old Hollywood style. I just really love the fashion (as well as the design) of classic movies. So, a book like Caroline Young's Classic Hollywood Style is right up my alley.

Caroline Young's background is in Literature, Film and Journalism but her love and appreciation of classic Hollywood fashion is quite evident in this book. She takes a look at 34 films starting with Camille (1921) and ending with The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Other notable films include Gone With the Wind (1939), Casablanca (1942),  Gilda (1946), The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). There is a nice mix of popular films as well as some lesser known ones. There are 3 films from the 1920s, 7 films from the 1930s, 8 films from the 1940s, 11 films from the 1950s and 4 films from the 1960s. Each movie gets 3 spreads, 6 pages total with a couple movies getting an extra spread, 2 pages. There are many full page images but the focus really is on the text. Young explores the decision making of the fashion, the relationship between designer and star, the cultural influence of the film's fashion as well as the role the fashion plays in each film.

This book is nice and compact and is beautiful enough to serve as a small coffee table book but can easily be shelved as well. Basically, you want to read the book, not just look at the pretty pictures. The book is chockfull of great anecdotes and trivia bits. It's a really good choice for someone who is either into fashion or into classic films or both. There are no spoilers so if you haven't watched one of the films discussed then the movie won't be ruined for you. There were only a couple films I wasn't interested in but for the most part each film was a delight to read about. I hadn't realized how iconic certain outfits really are and how we identify certain films by those very outfits. The wife-beater on Marlon Brando, the white negligee on Elizabeth Taylor, the red windbreaker on James Dean, the white flowing dress on Marilyn Monroe, the green curtain dress on Vivien Leigh, etc. I don't even need to mention which outfit went with what film. You automatically know what it was just by the image.

I thought it was interesting that Young decided to end the list with 1968 when the Hays Code was put to an end. Young claims that with the end of the Hays Code there was a more towards realism because now filmmakers had more freedom to show what they wanted on screen. So the lack of realism in designer fashioned masterpieces didn't fit the new era of film. Designers became more like shoppers rather than artists. This is why fashion in film these days isn't as important as it was back then and why so many of us mourn for the style of old Hollywood.

My biggest issue with the book was a glaring error found in the section about The Dancing Lady (1933) with Joan Crawford. Young says "... in the 1930s she was the reigning queen of MGM." Oh hell no! You did NOT just diss the real 1930s Queen of MGM who was...

Norma Shearer!

Norma Shearer WAS the Queen of MGM. That was her actual title. Movie stars were often given titles or tag lines that were used in the promotion of their movies. Norma Shearer was Queen of MGM, Clark Gable was King of Hollywood, Sterling Hayden was "The Most Beautiful Man in Movies", etc. Norma Shearer was the Queen of MGM and no matter how much this author loves Joan Crawford it's not going to change the fact that Joan Crawford hated Norma Shearer because Shearer was the Queen and Crawford wanted the title for herself. The author tends to favor Joan Crawford featuring her more times in the book than any other actress. Joan Crawford was very influential to fashion with the clothes she wore on film. It was quite common for stores to start carrying Joan Crawford inspired pieces for the masses.  However, NORMA SHEARER WAS STILL THE QUEEN OF MGM!

There were a couple other instances of the author making similar statements but the others seemed more based on fact rather than this Joan Crawford one. There were no Norma Shearer movies in the book. While Norma Shearer wore amazing clothes I don't think she was as influential in fashion as Joan Crawford so I understand her absence. But I'm still offended by the statement.

However, the book is very well-researched with an appendix full of sources including interviews, newspaper articles, press releases, biographies, production notes, etc. Let's just hope that the author and publisher can fix that Joan Crawford line to read "in the 1930s she was one of the biggest stars of MGM" which would have been more accurate.

If you love Classic Hollywood fashion and are willing to overlook the Norma Shearer-Joan Crawford gaffe, then pick up this book! It's quite a treat.

Disclosure: Thank you to Frances Lincoln Limited Publishers for a review copy of the book

The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates

The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates

An innocent tax collector visits the home of a family of tax-evaders in rural England. He has no clue what he is getting into. Will he make it out of the home alive? Or will he stay in their clutches forever?

You could spin the concept of the book as a dramatic thriller. But really The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates is one of the most charming novels you'll ever read. It follows the story of Charlie (Cedric Charlton) a young man who works for the local tax office. He's been sent out to the Larkin's home in Kent to talk about their taxes. Or for that matter, the income taxes they've never paid. Ever.

A visit that was only supposed to last a couple hours ends up lasting an entire month with Larkin's luring him in to their country ways. There is Pa Larkin, a farmer who knows how to barter and to mix a very strong cocktail. His income primarily comes from trading goods. In fact, he's not sure what income really is. To him it's all "out"come! The Larkin's are very well-fed bunch, feasting on full English breakfasts, desserts and heavy dinners. Not to mention all the alcohol. Make sure you don't read the book on an empty stomach or you might start salivating.

The book starts when Ma Larkin tells Pa Larkin that their eldest daughter Mariette (of 5 children) is pregnant. And not only is it out-of-wedlock, Mariette can't figure out who the father is. That's pretty darn scandalous even for today. But the Larkin's are free-thinkers and don't care to judge their daughter. Pa thinks it's purrfec' (his favorite word) either way.

When Charlie comes to visit the Larkin's have a dilemma. They like the guy but they don't want to pay taxes. A series of events that both charm and confuse Charlie send him on a whirlwind. He's stuffed with food, given too much alcohol and the beautiful and nubile Mariette is hypnotizing him. The novel introduces you to a lovely bunch of characters and a look into the charmed world of the Larkin's.

What impresses me about H.E. Bates' novel is how seemingly innocent it is. For a moment, you are entranced, much like Charlie is, with the family and their unconventional ways that you forget what society told you was wrong and you just have fun. When you read this, you want to move in with the Larkin's! I love Bates' prose. He refers to the romantic elements of nature in the prose to enhance the bucolic setting. I love the last line in which the four main characters are looking out the window onto the property while listening to the nightingales in the background.

There really is no plot or rising action in the book. It's really just a slice of life kind of tale. You follow their adventures. The only real tension one can find in the book is whether Charlie will leave the Larkin's or if they will convince him to stay.

I first became familiar with the story of the Larkin's and Charlie through the British TV mini-series from the early 1990s by the same name. Each part of the mini-series is devoted to one of the 5 books in the Larkin family series. I have to say, I'm impressed with the producers of the mini-series as they kept very true to the original books. The charm, the dialogue, the characters, nothing is changed. It's all is how H.E. Bates presents it in the book. The American film version The Mating Game (1959) however is a very loose Americanized interpretation of the book and makes a lot of changes so it could pass the censors strict guidelines.

I listened to this book on audio. It was read by Bruce Montague who I think did a superb job with the narration. Even with his somewhat deep British voice he managed to do well with the female characters. His voice was soothing which complemented the book quite nicely.

There are five books in the series as listed below. A few of them are available on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com but not all. You'd have to order from Amazon.co.uk if you want the complete set. The first book The Darling Buds of May is available on audio from Audible.com.

The Darling Buds of May
A Breath of French Air
When the Green Woods Laugh
Oh! To Be in England!
A Little of What You Fancy

If you are a fan of books like I Captured the Castle or Cold Comfort Farm , then I would recommend you read this. If you are a fan of the series, then you MUST read this. I had such an enjoyable time with the book that I didn't want it to end. I hope I can manage to get all the books in the set. The Larkin's made me want to stay with them forever.
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