It’s our very last classics discussion of the year! And what a long book it was, my GOODNESS. Thank you to everyone who read it with us–it’s been so fun chatting with everyone on Twitter, and we look forward to a lively discussion with you below as well!
IT’S ALSO RECKONING TIME. Below you’ll find directions on how you may prove you completed/participated in the challenge this year. We have two giveaways, plus a little thing for some additional participants.
Kim: Okay, due to my most inconveniently timed illness I was only able to make it halfway through this book. Terrible! But I have been long familiar with the story ever since I saw the 1994 film adaptation as a wee one. (Also my first ever introduction to Little Women was this anime I had as a kid. It it very dear to teeny tiny Kim’s heart )
Impressions then: Amy March is a terrible human being who does not deserve Laurie. Impressions now: Amy March is a terrible human being who does not deserve Laurie.
Layla: Ahaha! I’ve been waiting for this one, mostly so I can hold you both hostage to my feelings. As you may have gathered from Twitter, Little Women was one of my childhood favorites – my first-grade teacher gave me a copy of Little Men when I left her classroom, but I never liked it until it was framed by Little Women, which I loved a whole lot. I was actually surprised by how much of the language I remembered on this re-read.
Wendy: I love this book to pieces, but I hadn’t read it in years. I barely squeaked in at the end, but I enjoyed this reread immensely. These dear, dear girls!
Layla: That said, while I can’t not love Little Women, I felt a whole lot more judged by this book than I did as a ten year-old. I will read all of the pirate-orphan-rogue adventure tales I want to, Professor Bhaer! (There is another scene like this in Rose In Bloom – I think! – where Uncle Alec catches Rose reading scandalous French romances, I think, and gives her a talking-to about how they’re going to affect her moral development, which made me feel guilty about reading romances for years.)
Kim: Ew what? I haven’t gotten to the part where the Professor gets a lecturin’ but I do not like. There was a bit of moralizing in the first half that makes me just a teeensy bit eye roll-y with all the “good Christian virtue” but it is part of the charm of the book, I admit. Sad to think of Little Layla all discouraged for the romance reading :(
Wendy: I normally very much like old timey books written for children that are about striving to be good, as evidenced by some of our classics choices this year. I mean, I believe in that just as a general life rule. But this was too much even for my taste, I winced at a lot of passages.
Layla: It really is a present theme in this book. Moral formation through novel-reading! Which is … actually a thing I do believe in, though not in the same way that Alcott does. Did I get it from this book? Er, maybe. But I do feel pretty strongly about that, especially for YA fiction? Like, I want books to model good behaviors or good ways or being in the world, or at least foster useful discussions on these things.) In any case, it’s interesting that Jo’s scolded for thriller-writing (won’t somebody think of the children?) while Alcott herself wrote them.
Wendy: Professor Bhaer calls thrillers trash! Tsk, tsk. While I don’t think every YA/children’s book needs to offer shining examples of perfect behavior, particularly ones written now within the context of everything we’ve learned as from history and social/personal development, etc, I am very strongly drawn to books that feature a positive, joyous outlook on life. It’s very Pollyanna of me, I guess, but I agree–I think books that model good behavior are wonderful. But, this one goes overboard.
Kim: I do find the moralizing interesting. I actually thought that as admirable as it is to examine one’s faults and constantly strive to be better that there was maybe too much pressure to be good? Jo is ever so hard on herself when she’s already such a decent person! We all have flaws and can’t be perfect. I was just reminded of how when I was religious in high school and was constantly deriding myself on not being a perfectly good person and all that pressure to be an angel. It just made me anxious! You’re fine, Jo!!
Layla: Relatedly: what is up with how much the book emphasizes writing from experience rather than imagination? Did that strike anyone else as interesting/odd?
Wendy: Is this an early instance of “write what you know?” I’ve always been confused about what characteristics are considered part of the romanticism movement in American literature. I’ve read conflicting statements about relying on personal experience vs. fanciful imagination.
Layla: Also, despite the weird moralizing about bad books, Louisa May Alcott must have had some radical politics for her time, right?
Wendy: Yes, I think so. I believe her father was actually a bit of a rebel, too–he got into trouble for teaching about sex, and he had a black female student 25 years before abolition, I believe. So she’s got some of his spirit! Fun fact: he also invented recess. Hail to the Alcotts.
Layla: This is not to say that there are not several cringe-worthy passages in this book – where Meg tries to interest herself in politics and John takes an interest in hattery, for example – as well as some serious gender essentialism going on. But like … marriage as a partnership? John helps with the parenting? Jo’s multiracial pupils?) i don’t know. Needs more research. Must use google-fu!
Can I also bring up the book’s surprising okay-ness with Catholicism as a thing? Like, no one responds poorly when that Frenchwoman teaches Amy about the rosary and tells her how to basically make a shrine to Mary in her closet. (As I was reading it, as a former Catholic schoolgirl, I was like, “I SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING.”) But then it’s totally fine!
Kim: I also like how adorable and heartwarming the closeness of the family is and how touching it is that they cheer and buoy each other through various triumphs and failures. I want to gather this entirely family (MINUS AMY) into my arms and squish ‘em.
Wendy: No hugs for Amy. I am so fond of the sister love and family love–and the wintry Christmas things, with skates and sleigh rides! I do believe this was one of the first books I read that gave a little glimpse into feminine beauty regimens with curling tongs and such–it was all very mysterious and wonderful to young Wendy. And the clothes, though they weren’t wealthy, sounded beautiful! I’ll take a blue velvet snood and pearl pin, please.
“Dear me, let us be elegant or die.”
Layla: And proof that a book is the greatest Christmas present of all!
Wendy: Let us not forget the “eatables and drinkables” including distracting French bonbons, blanc-mange, bowls of apples, a box of chocolate drops, fat turkeys, plum puddings, and promiscuous lunches. I need an explanation for “wine and beef tea,” however.
Layla: No pickled limes, but I will take all your pink and white ice cream, thanks very much. Apparently beef tea is made from beef? I’m imagining it as some kind of broth. Maybe the wine is separate? And you get some wine and some broth. Very good for invalids. Man, there are some disturbing sentences “wine and beef tea” is on Google, though.
Wendy: I just enjoy all the charming details (post office in the hedge!), love of books and music, and cozy family feeling, as well as cordial friends and neighbors–do drop in on me with 3 kittens when I’m sick, won’t you? And the games they play! What is Authors and why do they not explain how we may play it?
Layla: According to Wikipedia! “The deck of cards consists of eleven sets of four cards each representing the works of eleven famous authors. The object of the game is to form complete sets of the four cards comprising the works of a particular author. The winner is the player with the most sets.”
Wendy: Someone needs to replicate this game.
Layla: For me it was LMA’s commitment to the Pickwick Society. As a child, I used to skip that section. Don’t hate me forever! I thought it was boring and didn’t know who any of those old dudes were – and I still don’t, ‘cause I still haven’t read much Dickens. HOWEVER. Now I find that interlude totally charming and ugh, so fun! It captures the girls’ different voices so well! (And of course Amy hasn’t participated properly, she is the worst.) Like, I love the descriptions of their home theatricals now, too. So delightful.
Wendy: I confess I skipped it this time around. I was in a hurry, and though charming, it’s a bit too long for my taste.
“That boy is a perfect Cyclops, isn’t he?” said Amy, one day, as Laurie clattered by on horseback, with a flourish of his whip as he passed.
“How dare you say so, when he’s got both his eyes? And very handsome ones they are, too”; cried Jo, who resented any slighting remarks about her friend.
Wendy: I also forgot how funny this book is! I quite enjoyed the blatant allusion to sex–the “taking off” of the great coat following the quarrel, followed shortly thereafter by a small flannel bundle. Oh, MY.
Layla: Wait, is this John and Meg? SCANDALOUS. I like this about the babies: when Laurie “regards the infants with the air of a big, benevolent Newfoundland looking at a pair of infantile kittens.”
Wendy: The writing is so humorous–I love it. But now we have to talk about the thing that makes all of us furious.
Layla: Amy March is the worst. (I hear Kim would not fish her out of a lake.) For my part, I have no more affection for her than I did when I first read these books. Team Jo all the way! I just feel like Jo gets so *wronged* by Amy and Amy never really gets adequately punished. Her punishment is wearing a beautiful turquoise ring. To remind her of how no one would love her if she died. (And that kills me! Your punishment is wearing pretty jewelry! This seems HIGHLY suspect to me, sneaky Amy March! Someone hand me a diamond necklace so I can think about my sins, okay?)
Wendy: And she gets to go abroad. UGH. I don’t think it helped matters that both times that darling Beth lies at death’s door, we’re forced to leave her bedside to listen to Amy’s endless prattling about her looks or being bored or whatever.
Kim: I have negative interest in helping to fish Amy March out of a frozen lake is all I’m saying. I’ll just casually stand over there. She wasn’t listening in the first place!
Layla: Among Amy’s offenses that I am still incandescently angry about: when she burns Jo’s novel; when she whines about having to go to school (school is the best; you are the worst); when she gets to travel to Europe in Jo’s place! (Speaking of which, how long is that goddamn trip? It’s supposed to be what … a few months? And turns into like THREE YEARS? And Amy gets it, because Jo was grouchy about making house calls that Amy forced her into. And Jo dealt with Aunt March FOR YEEEEEEEARS.) However: I was really bothered by the description of Jo shaking her until her teeth chattered in her head, though, after Amy burns Jo’s precious book. Even though I felt like Jo’s anger was totally justified, that seemed kind of violent.
Kim: UNACCEPTABLE. Burning Jo’s novel is such an egregious offense. And like you mention above she never is adequately punished for it while poor Jo ends up beating herself up for hesitating to help Amy not die. Well guess what? Amy destroyed her life’s work and is terrible. In my child mind Amy stole Laurie and that was the most unforgivable offense of all. No thank you, Amy March. Goodbye forever. I would add, though, that now I just have to give Laurie major side eye for even being remotely interested in her. What’s up with that.
Wendy: YES. I’ve always hated Amy and every re-read makes the feeling worse, but it’s the fact that Laurie marries her that drives me up the freaking wall. I can accept that Laurie and Jo maybe aren’t meant to be, but his being interested in that useless twit makes me raaaage. Adult Laurie is just so different from boyhood Laurie that it’s difficult to reconcile–and it doesn’t help that we have that fast forward of 3 years between Meg’s engagement to her wedding, so that you don’t see Laurie and Jo growing apart, it’s just presented as fact. So this dear, kind, thoughtful boy is all the sudden courting “fast” girls and so on, okay, fine, then he buckles down and tries to be a “decent” person– but to make the leap to someone as vacuous as Amy? I just don’t buy it. I think there’s a tremendous amount of truth in his disloyal thought that “Jo’s sister was almost the same as Jo herself.” It’s an insulting statement at face value, but I think it’s the desire to stay close to Jo, and still part of the family and all the comfort they’ve brought him, that makes Amy especially attractive to him. He’s obviously known many girls before her and is a catch.
Layla: Yes, I was hoping someone would talk about this! I’d never noticed this on previous reads, but the way he thinks of Amy as an extension of Jo herself is super interesting. I also kind of question how much he actually loves Jo v. just wanting to be a part of the March family.
Wendy: I’m sure that played into it. But I’m not unconvinced that they could have loved each other and made a life together. Jo was just so uncooperative, hah.
Layla: When he’s trying to write his great work in Europe, right, and is thinking of his heroine, he tries to think of Jo and make her into his ideal heroine – but he can’t. “But memory turned traitor, and as if possessed by the perverse spirit of the girl, would only recall Jo’s oddities, faults, and freaks.” The way I read Laurie’s love for Jo is, like, of a boy who’s grown up with very little love in his life and who desperately wants to be part of this incredibly warm, close family. He falls for Jo, but for me, he’s really falling for the idea of the Marches more than anything else.
Wendy: I think there’s a great deal of truth in that. My husband’s family is the complete opposite of mine, and it’s kind of nice for both of us to have different experiences.
But fuck Amy March forever. I know she supposedly grows up a bit later on, but it’s not really all that much. She is stupendously rewarded for being vain and ornamentative and, supposedly, being not as terrible as she was as a child.
Layla: I see no proof of this. You know nothing (about basic human decency), Amy March.
Wendy: I felt extra indignant because, like most readers, I completely related to Jo, partly because I was a tomboy with my nose stuck in books, and I had a fearful temper for the longest time. Well, I still have a temper, but I’ve learned to stay among the nettles until my feelings cooled as well.
Layla: I also related to Jo, for, um … similar reasons. Like Jo, I’m a grumpy November baby (Scorpio shout-out). And am also pretty quick-tempered & easily agitated. This passage really hit home for me as a kid: “It seems as if I could do anything when I’m in a passion … I could hurt anyone and enjoy it.” Oh man did I feel that way as a child: incandescent rage! But also! ::scribbles fanfic about Jo going to Europe instead; spoiler alert, she participates in some French salons and becomes a lesbian; Beth escapes her untimely end by turning into a vampire and bites Amy to death:
Kim: I WANT THIS TO BE REAL. I especially support Beth becoming a vampire because Beth is my favorite and I would also love to be a vampire. I have seriously thought through what I would do if any attractive vampires popped up and offered to take me away into the night.
Wendy: Beth breaks my heart, and there is so much foreshadowing with her that makes it harder to bear. But I like the idea of the angel turning into a vampire. And biting Amy to death.
Layla: Yes, the bit about the little cricket chirping on the hearth and no one notices it until it’s gone … HINT HINT. The saddest part in the whole book for me: “It seems I should be homesick for you even in heaven.” I CRIED.
Wendy: I cried a LOT, especially at the Beth parts. And I also looked quite keenly for signs of queer subtext in Jo’s character this time around. She’s certainly described with a great many qualities that are regarded as traditionally masculine/tomboy, what with her “gentlemanly linen collar,” her delight in reading “boy’s books,” wanting to marry girls, and so on.
Layla: I loved this part: “It’s bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy’s games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy.” And then, “He liked Jo, for her odd, blunt ways suited him, and she seemed to understand the boy almost as well as if she had been one herself.” And there’s the way that Laurie’s affection for her is described as changing to “brotherly” after he sets his cap for Amy. I was spoiled for choice in quotes where I read Jo as queer, is all I’m saying.
Wendy: Apparently there’s quite a bit of speculation about that. The author has been quoted as saying she felt as if she had a boy’s spirit in a girl’s body, and has admired many girls. I believe Jo was married off because the publisher wanted her to be. It’s fairly well known that Alcott wanted Jo to stay a spinster, as she herself was. You have to wonder what ending Alcott would have given her now.
Layla: Yeah, her response to Meg’s marriage is pretty strong. Okay, she has a few people she loves dearly and hates change – I get that, I do – but “I want to marry Meg so I can keep her in the family.” UM. SUPER QUEER.
Wendy: Oh, Jo. I’m so sad for your settling, in so many ways.
Layla: Shippy ships: I no longer ship Jo/Laurie! Man, did that relationship break my heart as a child! I found the proposal scene – where he is all leaning and like, manfully shedding a solitary tear – so romantic. And now, I find it somewhat manipulative? That bit where he is like, ::coax coax:: made me want to jump into the book and grab his collar and haul him away. She said no, buddy!
I also don’t really ship Jo/Professor Bhaer, so there’s that, too. (I want Jo to be forever alone.)
Kim: I mean at least you don’t ship Jo and the Professor. There is that. Maybe I’m just too influenced by the 1994 movie? But I found Laurie so swoony and grown up Kim is like “F yeah he’s rich, handsome, of good character, and genuinely in love with you! I’d marry him!” So frustrating and heartbreaking. I pretty much dread actually having to read the second half of the book. And especially so for what’s coming with my dear, dear Beth who is drastically underrated! She is such a dear, sweet soul and I adore her utterly.
Wendy: This was the first time I’d ever read a book where the pair in my mind and BFFS didn’t end up together, and it scarred me for life. I’M STILL NOT OVER IT. I will never be over it. I can admit, as an adult, to a tiny crack in my intellect that leaves room for an understanding of why Laurie and Jo might not suit. But my heart wants to believe they could have made it. Lots of couples quarrel–and then they make up, gloriously. But hey, you cannot force love or sexual desire–Jo’s pretty clear the whole way through that she doesn’t feel anything other than friendly towards him. What a wretched romance.
Classics Readalong 2014: Giveaway!
Okay! How did everyone do on your challenges this year? We’re so very glad to see each and every one of you each month. Shiny new releases are wonderful, but it’s important not to forget to explore the books that have stood the test of time as well.
So here are the rules for the 2014 challenge:
1. You must have read/reviewed at least 8 classic YA or MG books on your blog or GoodReads during the 2014 calendar year. What defines a classic? Well, we’re generally looking at books at least 20 years old, along with other factors such as lasting appeal, awards, critical reception, etc. They can be the 11 classics we read together at The Midnight Garden, or ones you chose on your own. We reserve the right to make the final call on whether the books qualify, though if it’s a “classic of your heart” situation, make a good case for it in your review!
2. You must have posted our classics challenge button on your sidebar and/or your reviews along with a link back to us.
3. Leave links to all of your reviews in one comment below. (It helps if you can write the title followed by the link, hit return, and then list another so the lists are nice and tidy.) We will absolutely, positively verify your entries, so please do make sure your links are properly formatted!
4. Leave an email address where we may contact you. You have until January 1st, 2015 to leave all your information, so you still have a little bit of time if you’re almost there.
If you’ve completed all of the above–congratulations! You’ve met your challenge goal–yay!!
From all the qualifying people who completed the challenge, we will choose winners as follows:
— One US winner, who will receive all four of these gorgeous Puffin in Bloom classics editions illustrated by Anna Rifle Bond. Aren’t they beautiful? We posted these photos on our Tumblr a few months ago and it’s our most popular post! It’s also fun that the set includes two of the books we’ve read this year, and you miiight see one of the others in the coming months, too. This set is graciously provided by our friends at Penguin Books for Young Readers.
— One international winner, who will receive his/her choice of one of these four books. We’ll buy and send it directly to the recipient, and the giveaway is open to any country where The Book Depository ships.
I hope everyone who joined in, whether you completed the challenge or not, enjoyed the experience of discussing these classics! AND if you participated in at least one of the discussions here at TMG by thoughtfully commenting on one of the classics posts, I will send the first 30 qualifying respondents one of our pretty Midnight Garden bookmarks. These are highly coveted by readers near and far, and this is the first time we’ve offered them up publicly in this way. Just leave your email below along with links to your specific comment in at least one discussion you participated in, and I’ll be in touch for your address. And yes, this is open internationally.
Our usual general giveaway rules apply–you must be 18 and older to participate, or 13 and older with parental permission, etc., etc.
Photographs are by Wendy Darling. Review and giveaway copies were provided by Penguin Books for Young Readers.
January Readalong: Tuck Everlasting
Ready for some magical realism? And tears? We’ll be reading Tuck Everlasting as part of its 40th anniversary celebration! This was a bit of a shocker to read as a kid, so I’m curious to see how we’ll all feel about it reading as adults.
Title: Tuck Everlasting
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Discussion Date: Friday, January 30th
Doomed to—or blessed with—eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.
This title should be easily available in libraries, and it’s also between $5 and $6 on Amazon depending on the format.
— If you’d like to get a head start on February’s book, we’ll be reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.
So what were your thoughts on Little Women? Did Jo make the right choice? Are you as angry with Amy March as we are? (Sorry, Amy Garvey. We told you your choice was controversial.)
Be sure to leave links to the reviews you’ve completed so you may qualify for the giveaways as well!