10.22.2015

Thoughts on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

If you have been a reader of this space for any amount of time, you will certainly know of my endless love of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  A lot of that love stems from nostalgia and the fact that I see so much of myself in the character of Jo, and the other girls at times.  I wax all poetic and nostalgic in my full review, which is here if you so desire.

Recently, I've heard some criticism floating around about Little Women, and I thought I'd talk about that.  Now, I am not writing this in response to that criticism necessarily – everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and I'm not going to try and say they're wrong or anything (though I will defend Little Women forever), but I just wanted to share my thoughts regarding the criticism.


The criticism is, basically, that Little Women is too perfect, too idyllic a picture of a family.  In other words, it's not reality.  And because a loving family, where the parents love each other, where the children love each other and their parents, and where God is present and glorified is not realistic, the book is disliked/considered only a children's book/criticized.  I've also heard people say that it's too sickly sweet, that the morals and the idea of being "a good girl" are old-fashioned and outdated.  Also, that this is a book only meant for children.

Personally, I think that really simplifies the book - I think it's got a bigger heart than all of that, and I also disagree with the idea that it's not realistic as a bit rubbish.  These girls and their mother are separated from their father/husband while he is involved with the Civil War which is taking place, one of the sisters dies later in the book after a prolonged illness, and the family is poor.  Perhaps what the criticism means when they denounce it as unrealistic is that the way in which the family faces their trials and struggles is unrealistic.

Now, I have a problem when things are criticized for being "too perfect" or idealistic.  I'm sorry, but I was under the assumption that we wanted families to be strong, marriages to be healthy, relationships to thrive, and family members to love each other and bind together when the going gets tough.  I think we have a problem when we begin to get rid of ideals and level the playing field so that everything is just "realistic" and there is no striving for anything better than what already is.  If we only have examples of families and relationships and marriages that are realistic, then how will anything ever get better?  How will society ever progress?  And here's a little hint: strong marriages and strong families strengthen society.

One of my favorite things C.S. Lewis ever said about children's literature was his insistence that dark, evil, terrible circumstances and characters be a part of children's books, because they must be aware that in the world they live, there are villains and terrible things, and they need to read stories about those things and read about heroes who destroy villains and chase away the darkness.  I love that, and I think that is terribly important in children's books.

That doesn't mean, however, (and I don't think Lewis meant it either) that ALL children's lit should only be about the darker side of the world.  Yeah, kids should read books that tell about the evil in the world, but it's also imperative that they read books about goodness and purity and stories that tell how things should be.  Children need to know about the evil so they are prepared for it, but they have to know that there is something better than all of that, too.  They have to see the beauty of family, of relationships, of the redemption of love and how love conquers hate.  They have to see the shining knights who pursue the villains, the good men who protect the weak, the fathers who care for their families, the women who are brave and strong, the mothers who weather the storms, the kings who are noble and honorable, and the people who care for others before themselves.

That's why books like Little Women are important.  They show children how families should work, how fathers should protect, how mothers should love.  They need to see high standards, they need a picture of how things should be.  Because if they don't know that, if they can't ever see the good things, it won't matter if they know all about the bad.  They won't have anything else to turn to.

Something else C.S. Lewis said regarding children's books has to do with morals.  A lot of the criticism for Little Women has to do with the amount of morals in the book, the supposedly old-fashioned preachiness of the family's faith.  C.S. Lewis says (and I paraphrase) that children's books should not have any sort of moral that the author himself does not strive for or does not apply to himself.  Otherwise, it won't be believable.  He says, "We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children: differing from out child readers not by any less, or less serious, interest in the things we handle, but by the fact that we have other interests with children would not share with us."  I know for a fact that Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women around her own sisters, and Jo specifically around herself, and she shared Jo's persistent struggle with her temper.  Therefore, Alcott's writing about that came from her personal experience, and that adds so much more heart to Jo's struggle than if the author pulled it out of the air.

Those are just some of my thoughts on the criticism that's floating around about Little Women.  Again, I'm not trying to convince anyone or discredit their opinions, but it just concerns me when ideals like family and marriage are not given any credit because "it's just not realistic".  Personally, I think Little Women is more than just a children's story, and it's still my favorite book.  Thanks for reading! xo, Ella

10.19.2015

My Autumn TBR

I know that fall is now about half over, which makes me sad, but I wanted to share the books I hope to read this season (let's just note that I've started none of these so far.  Oops.)


The first book I have on my list (and the one I'm starting next) is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Donna Tartt is one of those authors I have heard a ton about, but have never read, and I'm excited to pick this one up.  I got it earlier this year, and I saved it for this season, because it just seems like a fall read to me.  It is a huge book – 750 pages – but hopefully it won't drag and I'll be able to finish it before next year.  I am equal parts excited and nervous for this – partly because I rarely read contemporaries – but I'm gonna give it a go.

The next book is one that's frequently at the top of African-American literature lists – Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.  Now, earlier this year I read Beloved by Toni Morrison, also an African-American novel, and I didn't love it – Morrison's writing style is different and a little hard to engage with, in my opinion.  Of course, after I read it, I heard someone say that Hurston's novel was a better place to start than Morrison, so I'm just doing it backward, I guess.  Anyway, this is a pretty short Southern love story(?) I'm thinking, and I'm looking forward to it.

Next up is a classic – supposedly the precursor to the modern mystery novel – and it is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.  I got this one earlier this year and set it aside for this season, because that just seemed right, and I am pumped to read this.  I am a huge fan of mysteries, as you know, and so I am excited for this.  It's got all the things I love about mysteries: a locked room, red herrings, and the lot.  It's a pretty chunky book, but I'm really stoked.

The next book I have on my list is here for a really dumb reason.  It's called The Fall by Albert Camus.  I know, I'm sorry.  How corny can you get?  I picked this book up secondhand this year, and I just thought I'd try to read it this season.  Albert Camus is a French Nobel Prize winning author and philosopher who contributed to the rise of a philosophy known as absurdism.  I don't know a whole lot about him, but I know that he has some different beliefs/views, and as I am a proponent of reading/learning about ideas and people who disagree with my worldview to know what they believe and therefore how to respond, I'm interested in this, but not really excited for it, except that I'm curious as to Camus's belief system (or the lack thereof).  In any case, I know this will be fascinating.

And the final one I have on my list is Hard Times by Charles Dickens.  I've had this one for a while, and it's been on my list to read for several months in a row, so I don't know if I'll get to it this season or not.  If there are any books on this list I could see myself not reading, it will be this one.  Oh well.  I need to get inspired to read Charles Dickens, I guess.

And those are the books I absolutely really need to read this season (or what's left of it).  There are a couple nonfiction books I also want to get to, and I need to finish reading War & Peace, but these are my top priority.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

10.12.2015

What I Read This Summer

As promised, I am back to share/talk about the books I read this summer (mostly in July).  I pretty much took the entire month of August off from reading – though I started quite a few books – because I was pretty drained after Summit.  But, turns out, I read a ton of stuff in July, so let's get into it.
I didn't read too many books this summer that I absolutely adored (like last year), but there are a couple, and I'll just do a quick run-down on my thoughts on all of these.

The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood: This is book two in "The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place" series, a middle-grade series centered around three rambunctious children with mysterious origins and their stalwart young governess.  I thought this book was fun and my sister (11) enjoys this series, but for me it was pretty forgettable and just wasn't anything special.  I don't think I'll probably finish the series, but I would totally recommend it for the middle-grade age children.  The series is a perfectly good middle-grade series, but I just didn't love it.  3 out of 5 stars

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I reread this book this summer for probably the 5th or 6th time.  Little Women is just my most favorite book of all time.  I like to say that it's up in my "Book Canon" where it is untouchable and will forever be my most-loved book.  This reread, especially, I absolutely loved.  I basically started crying halfway through and didn't stop until the end, just because THE FEELS.  I think that because all the characters in Little Women have always been such a big part of my childhood, I feel more deeply connected to them each time I read it, and so I can more and more empathize with their situations, and this time, just ALL THE FEELINGS.  And for the record, I cried at the sad parts, the happy parts, and everything in between.  I have no explanation other than I was probably a little tired, too.  But, seriously, I freaking love. this. book.  There is no star rating that would adequately communicate my endless affection for it.  Okay, I'm done.

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket: This is book one in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" middle-grade series, which has been majorly hyped everywhere and so I gave in and read it.  I was hoping to really like this series, but I was all like, "Um... I don't get it.  Bad stuff (like, awful stuff) happens to kids and it ends on a depressing note, and...?"  So, yeah, I didn't like it.  I mean, child marriage, are you kidding me?  Who wants to read/enjoys this stuff?  And thus, I am not continuing with the series.  2 out of 5 stars

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood:  At last, I read a book by the illustrious Margaret Atwood.  The Penelopiad is a retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope's (Odysseus's wife) perspective, with some treacherous maids and poetry thrown in for good measure.  I'm still not totally sure what I think of this.  I didn't dislike it, but I didn't particularly enjoy it either.  Atwood paints a really bad picture of Odysseus in this book (which she can do, I mean, maybe he was a jerk) and I didn't really enjoy that.  Also, there's just some weird stuff that goes down, and weird people, and the whole subplot with the maids threw me off, so while I didn't hate it, it wasn't something I liked a whole lot either.  I did enjoy a different perspective on The Odyssey and I'll probably pick up some more Atwood in the future, as her writing style is really unique.

Third Girl by Agatha Christie: Last year, I got a couple Agatha Christie novels from my library's used book sale, and the first one, "A Death on the Nile," I really enjoyed.  I still enjoyed this one, but not as much.  I don't remember the plot too well (there are 3 girls... surprise!), and I didn't particularly like the plot or the other characters, but it is a Hercule Poirot mystery, and I always enjoy him.  It's the first Christie I haven't totally enjoyed, but it wasn't bad either, and I'm not saying you won't like it!  I just didn't love it as much as the others I've read by her.  3 out of 5 stars

Between You & Me by Mary Norris: This is a supposed book about language by the editor of The New Yorker magazine, Mary Norris.  The problem for me was that this didn't seem like a book on language as much as it seemed like a book about Norris's personal experience with language and where it has taken her.  When a book is blurbed as being comparable to Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, then it had better be comparable, because that book is my favorite book on grammar of all time.  And Between You & Me was nothing like Truss's book.  First of all, Norris's book is far more memoir than it is a book about grammar/language.  Not that I didn't find that interesting – her time at The New Yorker was super interesting to me and I really enjoyed those parts, but it had nothing to do with grammar and writing and such.  Second, she is no grammar Nazi.  She's one of those people who thinks grammar and standards of writing should evolve, that personal pronouns should be fluid and ignored grammar rules should well, er, continue being ignored.  I much prefer Lynne Truss's Nazism, thank you very much.  Anyway, I didn't hate this book, but I would have enjoyed it more if it had not been compared to Eats, Shoots, & Leaves.  They're nothing alike.  3 out of 5 stars

Hamlet by William Shakespeare: I had this brilliant plan to read like, four Shakespearean plays in July, but... I ended up only reading one.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Hamlet!  It had a dark humor that I really enjoyed, and the character of Hamlet was really fascinating.  I even came to enjoy Shakespeare's English.  I used the Barnes & Noble edition of this play, which was super helpful and explained all the language as it went along.  I highly recommend that edition.  I will definitely continue to read Shakespeare; Rome & Juliet is on my list next.  4 out of 5 stars

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling: I arrived pretty late to this book.  I thought it sounded fun, though, and the more I was learning about Mindy Kaling and hearing about her, the more I wanted to read her first memoir-ish book.  I listened to the audiobook, which Mindy narrates, and it was perfection.  She is so funny, self-deprecating, and just someone I want to be best friends with.  I love her.  This book is some memoir, some career, all funny, and a ton of fun.  4 out of 5 stars

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes: I picked this book up because I thought it would be a good summer read and also because I saw it recommended as an alternative to The Nightingale, which was a big historical fiction book this past year.  Also, I've always heard good things about Jojo Moyes, so I decided to give it a whirl while I was at the lake for a few days this summer.  This book is a split narrative between a woman set in France during WWII and a young woman in contemporary Britain.  These two women's stories are brought together around a painting.  There's some historical romance, not a whole lot of actual history, and quite a bit of Paris.  Now, I liked some things about this book.  For instance, I really loved the love story bits about Sophie (the French girl) and her husband Edouard set in Paris before the war.  Paris intrigues me, and so I enjoyed that part a lot.  I always enjoy split narratives as well, so I did like that aspect of this book, but unfortunately, the things I liked about this book were very outweighed by the things I didn't like.  I don't read a lot of romance (ie: any), but even I noticed so many annoying romance-y cliches that drove me crazy.  There was plenty of insta-love and angst, especially between Liv (contemporary British girl) and her husband and subsequent love interest.  Like, ugh.  She was the worst character.  She was whiny and selfish and utterly annoying.  She had this strange and unlikely obsession with a piece of art that she was willing to go to court and lose a fortune over, and I was so thoroughly annoyed with her the entire book that it set me off completely.  I did like the story line set in WWII, though, and those characters.  But the contemporary parts I totally disliked.  If you like historical romance/split narratives/annoying female characters, then this book might be for you, but it certainly wasn't for me.  2.5 out of 5 stars

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown: This book.  By far my favorite (new) thing I read this summer.  It was so great.  It's a novel about a pirate captain, Mad Hannah Mabbot, who captures gourmet chef, Owen Wedgewood, and forces him to cook her a fantastic meal on her ship every Sunday in order to stay alive as she gallivants across the ocean.  He is a pious, conservative man who has faithfully served his previous master for many years before being captured (his transformation is so awesome).  She is a ruthless pirate with a heart of gold underneath her tough exterior and fiery red hair.  Her crew is made up of a group of misfits, from the fearsome Mr. Apples, who knits, to a couple martial arts masters pledged to their captain.  She is in search of the notorious Brass Fox, a fellow marauder whose real identity remains hidden for much of the story.  Cinnamon and Gunpowder is an epic, swashbuckling adventure, a surprising love story, and an exotic foodie's diary.  And it was awesome.  This book totally surprised me by how much I loved it.  Mad Hannah is an absolutely brilliant character, and she is just the greatest pirate ever.  Pirates intrigue me, for some reason, and this book checked all my boxes.  The writing is just beautiful, the characters are full-bodied and so well-developed, the love story is understated and just right, and all the food bits were just. so. good.  I read this stretched out on a boat at the lake this summer, and I highly recommend you save this one for your next vacation, or wait until next summer.  I love, love, love, love this book, and you should totally read it.  5 out of 5 stars

Defying ISIS by Johnnie Moore: Switching gears from the ridiculous to the very real, Defying ISIS is a nonfiction book all about the killing machine that is ISIS now ravaging the Middle East and stretching out across the globe.  It is a very real, in-depth look at the havoc ISIS is wreaking both among Christians and Muslims, and how it's goal is to wipe out Christianity, not only in the Middle East, but in your own backyard.  Moore offers first-hand experiences of the terror ISIS has inflicted upon the people they target, horrifying stories of brutality and suffering, and unflinching details about what's behind the terrorist organization.  But he also looks at the incredible faith of the Christians, their hope, and what we can do for a situation that seems so far removed from our own.  If you want to know the real, gritty facts of the slaughter in the Middle East (and even if you don't) and need a wake-up call, read this book.  It is important.  4 out of 5 stars

And those are all the books I read this summer!  In my next post, I want to talk about where I am with all my reading challenges for this year, and talk about any changes I've made.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

10.07.2015

What I Did This Summer!

Whew!  It's been a while!  I never intended to take a break from the blog this summer, but that's what happened and so I'm here today to talk about what went down while I was away.

My last post was around the fourth of July, and later that month, we went to the lake for several days, and then we took a family trip to Boston.  It was fantastic.  We spent about 4 days in Boston and around that area, we drove to Plymouth one day, and up the coast another day in search of a beach.  We had a super awesome time – Boston is a pretty great city.  Anyway, I thought I'd share some pictures I took while we were there, including book stores (of course) and the rad Boston library (where I died and went to heaven).  I mean.  Oh, and we consumed a ridiculous amount of seafood and it was magical.
And then, a day after we got back from Boston, I hopped on a plane and flew out to Colorado Springs for a student conference/camp called Summit.  I was there for 2 weeks, and had over 60 hours of lecture on everything from worldview to apologetics, to how to defend your beliefs and why you believe what you believe, and it was easily the best two weeks of my year (the last 5 years?) (my life?).  It was so incredible.  Not only were the lectures and speakers phenomenal, I met so many awesome people and made so many new friends and learned so much about myself and about God.  It was a life-changing experience, and one I won't ever forget.  I might decide to do a post where I just write a whole bunch about the entire thing and put my thoughts down, but if you're interested in learning more about my experience or more detail about what it is, I'd be happy to talk about it.

Anyway, I thought I'd share some pictures from that trip as well.  Yes, today I am over-sharing and I don't care.
So, yeah, that was my summer!  It was crazy and awesome and scary and stretching and I loved it.  God is big and real, y'all.

This semester, I'm taking a college class and working quite a bit, so I don't know how much writing I'll actually be able to do in this space, but I definitely want to blog again!  I'll be talking about all the books I read this summer real soon, and I want to start doing more posts that are more topic-based, as I have thoughts on stuff, and I want to be able to throw them out there somewhere.  And anyway, this blog is called "This Girl Writes," so this just makes sense.

That's it for me today; hopefully I will be back next week to talk about some books!  xo, Ella