Summer Reading Project Book Nine: Rilla of Ingleside

First of all, I have to say that I love this book. It is my favorite single book of the series, and it’s not even about Anne! It’s about her daughter, Rilla. Don’t misunderstand me: I absolutely love Anne, but I’ve had the whole series to get to know her. This book is about the coming of age of a young girl in a difficult time. We see her go from a spoiled, selfish girl to a poised, giving, mature young woman, all during the course of the first World War.

I’ve been known to say that I love war, because it’s what makes history so interesting. I know that sounds horribly cold and flippant, because war is a horrible, hateful thing that steals young lives and breaks the hearts of those waiting back home. Still, no matter the cause, it is still a noble sort of tragedy. This book, written by someone who had clearly experienced the home front, captures both the tragedy and the nobility of it. The most interesting and heroic characters in this particular war tale are good old Susan Baker, Rilla, and Walter. More about Walter later. Let me just say that even if you don’t make it through the other books of the series, this one is a must-read all on it’s own. Taken together with the other books, it is even more special. It is, in a sense, the culmination of all the previous books and all the character development that has gone on to this point. Anne is not the heroine of this tale. She is too sensitive a soul to be able to handle the horror of war with the strength and spirit that Rilla does. Her character was formed in easier times. Still, she has a quiet dignity all her own that is comfortable in its way.

I love this book and I recommend it. I love it so much so that I can’t help but talk about one of my favorite characters ever, but I can’t do it without what some would call “spoilers.” So if you haven’t read it and you might someday, you may not want to read the rest of this post. I’m just warning you. 🙂 Go read the book, then come back and see what I have to say!

Some characters in literature just seem to reach out and touch my soul. For me, Walter Blythe has always been one of those characters. He is truly one of those “in the world and not of it” people, with his poetic soul and his shining grey eyes that see the world in a different way than most. He is that lyric, fanciful, part of Anne’s personality, crystalized in a human body. He understands all of the beauty and tragedy of the world because he actually feels it. I know it sounds crazy, but Walter is, and always has been, as real to me as if he had truly lived. It seems impossible that he only exists in the pages of a work of fiction.

Because I love Walter so much for his own merit, and also for the way Rilla loves him, I cry like a baby every time I read those two chapters: “Little Dog Monday Knows” and “And So, Goodnight.” I think this time I cried more than I ever had in reading them before, maybe because I’m older now and have tasted a little of the sorrow of life. But somehow, even though it is so incredibly sad, it’s also beautiful and inspiring. I think the beauty and inspiration of it make me cry just as much as the fact of Walter’s death. There is the sense that when we die, it is not really the end. The soul of a person does live on, both literally and also in the hearts of those who loved him, and in those for whom he died.

Summer Reading Project Book Eight: Rainbow Valley

The seventh book in the Anne of Green Gables really isn’t about Anne at all. Instead, it’s about her six children and their friends the Merediths. A widower with four children, John Meredith is the new Presbyterian minister in the community. He is a pleasant, absent-minded man, more interested in the spiritual world than the physical. As a result, his children run wild, his house is poorly managed, and his family is the talk of the community. The children are sweet and good-natured, but clearly in need of a mother figure, or even a more involved father. Their antics and scrapes form the funny, interesting little stories that L. M. Montgomery delights in telling.

The questions which drive the plot of this book are: will Mr. Meredith wake up and realize his children need parents? And will he be able to find love again? Along the way, we meet the usual assortment of endearing and hilarious characters, including the fascinating orphan Mary Vance, big, blustery Norman Douglas, and sweet Rosemary West. As with the rest of the books in this series, I really enjoyed this one. I don’t know if girls today still read, but if they do, it would be a shame for them to miss out on these books!

Summer Reading Project Book Five: Anne of Windy Poplars

As with all the other Anne books, this one is a delight. It’s also a bit different, as it’s divided into three segments of one year each, and about half of it is made up of letters from Anne to her fiance. He is putting in his three years of medical school before they are to be married. Meanwhile, Anne is a principle at Summerside High. Summerside is like many other towns on Prince Edward Island at that time, with one notable difference: the Pringles. They are the ruling family in town and have a prejudice against Anne from the beginning. After the first miserable term at school, Anne is close to giving up in despair. But her salvation comes from a very unexpected and unintended source, and from then on, the Pringles are a delight.

Anne is almost a busybody in this book. She is just old enough and has seen just enough of the world to believe herself to be wise and experienced — as is often the case with twenty-something college graduates. However, her old Anne Shirley sweetness is not spoiled by the wisdom of the ages, and she learns her lesson in a few hilarious episodes. She enchants the elderly ladies she lives with, befriends sweet Little Elizabeth next door, and refuses to be daunted by even the prickly Katherine Brooke.

Much of the plot for the “Sequel” movie actually comes from this book, intertwined with bits from Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island. There is one family in the movie that is actually a blend of at least ten different people in the books, and it’s fun to see all the threads in their original, unraveled form. Getting through this book was more of a leisurely stroll than the headlong rush of Anne of the Island, but it was still an enjoyable trip.

Summer Reading Project Book Four: Anne of the Island

I loved this book! I believe I mentioned that the previous two books don’t have a strong plot, but this one does. It is a romance, with all the glorious moments, misunderstandings, tension, and resolution that a good romance has. Ironically, Anne herself is such a romantic that she almost misses her own chance at love, because it didn’t look exactly like she thought it would. But I won’t tell you how it turns out. If you’ve read it or seen the movie, you know (although the book does it better, I think), and if you haven’t, you’ll just have to read it for yourself!

Although is it a romance at its heart, this book is also about friendship, college, and a young woman with developing dreams for her life. Those dreams take a few interesting twists and turns, with one in particular (the ill-fated short story, Averil’s Atonement) that is both hilarious and a bit tragic at the same time. The time frame covers Anne’s four years at Redmond College, with her friends Priscilla, Philippa, and Stella. Philippa, a new character, is a strange and delightful creature, vain and friendly at the same time, caught up in trying to pick which of her many suitors to marry.

I read this VERY fast. Greg lost me there for a day or two. I just had to see how it ended, even though I already knew!! This is definitely one of my favorites in the series!

Summer Reading Project Book Three: Anne of Avonlea

When I started this book, I thought, “Wow, I hardly remember this book at all,” because what I remembered most was the movie, and the book is different. If you’ve seen “Anne of Green Gables, The Sequel,” and read the books, you know what I mean. The movie is a mash-up of Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and Anne of Windy Populars, with plots, characters, and plotlines so intertwined it really must have taken a remarkable effort to come up with a screenplay. It took me a little while to untangle my vague memories as I read this book, but when I remembered why I love it.

These books don’t really have a strong overall plot; they are more like a delightful series of short stories woven around a single character: the wonderful Anne Shirley. Anne of Avonlea picks up where Anne of Green Gables left off, and covers Anne’s two years of teaching at the Avonlea School. Plenty of things happen, both hilarious and poignant, during that time. The real emphasis is the relationships with the people in Anne’s life, and the joy she takes in the beauty of her surroundings. We do see her complete the transformation from a girl to a young woman. One of my favorite lines in the book comes toward the end, and I think it sums it up nicely: “The page of girlhood had been turned, as by an unseen finger, and the page of womanhood was before her with all its charm and mystery, its pain and gladness.” It is interesting to me how in some ways, Anne is wise beyond her years, and yet in others, she simply refuses to grow up.

We said goodbye to one major character at the end of Anne of Green Gables, and are introduced to several others throughout this book. Most notable are the gruff new neighbor, Mr. Harrison, the delightful Keith twins (particularly the lovably mischievous Davy), the boy genius Paul Irving, and sweet Miss Lavender Lewis. Of course many old favorites are present as well, including Gilbert Blythe, whose feelings toward Anne are pretty clear throughout the story, although hers are considerably less so. The slim, graceful schoolteacher, who sees life as one great romance and eagerly encourages the romances of others, steadfastly refuses to see how her own romance is developing. Of course, that sets us up the next book, Anne of the Island!

I thought this was charming and delightful. Greg keeps rolling his eyes when I laugh out loud at various parts of the story. Ms. Montgomery was a master at capturing the essence of those things that make people interesting and characters real, and she was also funny! If you’ve never read beyond the first book of this series, you don’t know what you’re missing!

Summer Reading Project Book Two: Anne of Green Gables

I have loved this book for as long as I can remember. For many years when I was growing up, I read the Anne books every year, and they have had a profound impact on my life. However, it’s been quite awhile since the last time I read them. There is so much to love about Anne of Green Gables: first and foremost, Anne herself. This book actually covers five or six years of Anne’s childhood, beginning with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert taking in the “interesting” red-haired eleven-year-old Anne, and following her to the threshold of young womanhood.

Anne is easy to like, because she is real easy to relate to. She is a sweet and sincere girl she but she has flaws. She has a really terrible temper and a tendency to speak or act too impulsively, often with disastrous results. But she loves deeply and truly, and has a perfectly delightful imagination. Of course I see much of myself in Anne, but I think many people would say the same thing, probably for many different reasons. I like to think that if she had been a real person and lived today, we would be “kindred spirits.”

One of the nice aspects of the book is the setting. At one point, Prince Edward Island is described as the prettiest place in the world, and it certainly seems that way from the descriptions of meadows, trees, flowers, ponds, brooks, and the sea. Avonlea is a quaint small agricultural town, in a simpler time when little girls always wore dresses, horses and trains provided transportation, and school was a single room with a single teacher.

The author has a knack for catching the real heart of a story and putting it to paper. Marilla’s dry humor and Anne’s animosity toward Gilbert Blythe provide many of the comic elements of the book. There is always this feeling that most adults are laughing at Anne behind her back, which is a little sad, but we all do the same thing with precocious young girls. They don’t mean to be funny; they just are, particularly at their most dramatic. So it is with Anne.

This is a fast read. I gobbled it up in about three days. I thought is was delightful. What kind of children’s book uses words like “therein” and “whereupon?” I love the language! Even so, it is a children’s book: relatively short and simply but beautifully written. I was reminded again why it has always been a favorite!

Summer Reading Project Book One: Christy

Back at the beginning of the summer, I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my old favorites books. I’m in library school, but I had a whole two and a half months without taking classes, and reading sounded like a great way to spend some of that extra time. I posted them on Facebook originally, and now I’m re-posting them here. Enjoy, and of course, feel free to comment!

My first selection was Christy by Catherine Marshall. I remember reading it sometime in high school, probably when the miniseries starring Kellie Martin was on the air. I loved it, cried at the ending, declared it to be my favorite book ever, and never read it again. So I decided to give it another go.

There is a sweet simplicity about this book that I really enjoyed. Christy comes on the scene as a pampered socialite in early twentieth-century North Carolina who accepts a position as a teacher in underprivileged Cutter Gap, Tennessee. She feels as though she has some great destiny to fulfill, and giving these poor mountain children a basic education just might be that destiny. The book covers her first year in Cutter Gap, and during that time she completely changes as a person, as a Christian, and as a woman.

The book focuses on the relationships that Christy establishes with the children, parents, fellow mission workers, and God. The descriptions of both the place and the characters are so well-done that they feel real. The setting is heart-breakingly beautiful, with the natural splendor of the Smokies providing a backdrop for the incredible poverty and squalor of the community. The people are superstitious, ignorant, and prejudiced, but for all that, Christy finds glimmers of light: bright minds, deep friendships, and sometimes an almost aristocratic culture. She also finds love…but if you haven’t read it I won’t spoil that for you.

This book is based on Catherine Marshall’s mother, and it took her years to write it. All that time, energy, effort, and research was well worth it, considering the final result. At one time it was considered the most influential book in the lives of you women ages 17-21. For me, it was just as good, if not better, the second time around, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s a pretty quick read. I highly recommend it.

Book two, Anne of Green Gables, is coming soon…

Pride and Prejudice = Literary Perfection!

Shockingly, I have not heard universal agreement on this point. But it is the most brilliantly written work of fiction I have ever read. So I haven’t read everything, but I’ve read a lot, and Pride and Prejudice remains my favorite! The language is a little tough at times, and I’ll admit I even get confused in a few passages, but the story is just wonderful. I love it because even though it was written two hundred years ago, the characters are just as real as if they lived today. Of course, no one today would say, “You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it,” but it’s so much fun to read! I love the scenes between Elizabeth’s parents, the well-bred teasing between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and even the stupidity of Mr. Collins is enjoyable in its own way. I love how Elizabeth and Darcy evolve over the course of the book, and become better people for having known, hated, and loved each other. I love how complicated the story is, but how it all works out for the best in the end. There is so much that happens. People are constantly traveling all over the country, visiting here and there, falling in love, sometimes behaving badly, and finally getting married. And underneath it all is a lively sense of the ridiculous that keeps the reader smiling even in the darker moments. And the romance is the best part, of course. No two people are more perfect for each other, even if it takes Elizabeth over half the book to realize it.

It’s no wonder that Jane Austen is still so popular today. I’ve never attempted reading any of the spin-offs that people have written recently, because no one could capture those characters as well as she did. But now I’ve gotten into a habit of reading Pride and Prejudice about once a year, and all my favorite parts are practically memorized. I have two copies of the book and two more on my Amazon wish list. I know, I’m one of those crazy people, but I just can’t help it. Every time I read it I live in a happy glow for days. I just love this book!