If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? --Albert Einstein

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review: Moll Flanders

It has always been my contention that while times change and the world does progress (even a sketchy analysis of history tells us that), human nature remains the same. Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, written in 1722, supports that view.

In this novel, Moll (not her real name) tells her own difficult and sordid history that begins with her birth to a convicted thief in Newgate Prison. She becomes a ward of the state and after her early years with some gypsies, she is placed in the care of a kind and humane foster mother. The book follows her highs, which are quite lofty, and lows, which are quite sordid.
Despite her poor beginnings, though, many of her lows came of her own poor judgment. Defoe warns in his introduction not to glorify these choices, and the character herself often rails against her own decisions. Yet, through Moll, Defoe shows a fascination with the darker side of life and an understanding of this woman that fascinates me.

Defoe wrote the book at age sixty-two and had been imprisoned twice by that time, once for indebtedness and once for his politics. I imagine he met and spoke to many women like Moll since I’ve learned prisons in those days were not typically segregated by gender.
Moll Flanders as played by Alex
Mainly, the book features a flawed character who nonetheless is admirable for her spunk and determination in a world where all the cards are stacked against her. Not only is she lowborn, but she is a woman. Moll makes clear the yoke she is under two hundred years before women were deemed worthy of the right to vote. She is a person of remarkable insight.

Some examples of Moll’s wisdom include “She is always married too soon who gets a bad husband, and she is never married too late who gets a good one” and “From hence ’tis evident to me, that when once we are hardened to crime, no fear can affect us, no example give us any warning.” That second one explains why theft was rampant in an England where the penalty for the crime was hanging. It also explains why the death penalty today is no real deterrent.
This book has captivated me and I will read it again. The language is a challenge since the wording and syntax are somewhat archaic. It took me a couple of chapters to get used to it and I skimmed some, making sure I at least had the gist of the passages.

This aspect did not keep me from understanding and enjoying the story at all. I highly recommend this classic.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review: The Unfinished Garden

Through The Unfinished Garden, Barbara Claypole White brings an uncommon depth and elegance to a beautiful love story. The protagonist, Tilly, struggles to move past the death of her husband by throwing her energies into her son, Isaac, and her North Carolina gardening business.
When a wealthy and somewhat dashing James Nealy offers an exorbitant fee to landscape his new home, Tilly flatly refuses. But the quirky software developer shows a remarkable persistence, even following her to her childhood home in England when Tilly’s mother becomes ill. There, Tilly reconnects with Sebastian, her first love, who has also returned home.

Both men are attractive and vulnerable. James Nealy is a sweet man who confesses to Tilly his OCD which he hopes gardening can alleviate. Sebastian is struggling to find himself after a nasty divorce, still determined to be a great father to his young children.
When reading this book, I was engrossed by Tilly’s love interests because they were real, flawed human beings striving to overcome their weaknesses. Unlike many other novels in this genre, I was not sure whom Tilly should or would choose. I was sympathetic to both. To me, that’s how real life is. Nothing is ever so cut and dried.

Also, I found both settings—humid, somewhat dangerous North Carolina and the crisp gardens of the English countryside—to be characters of their own. Barbara Claypole White’s descriptions drew me in and have made me hungry for more.
I love this book. It is a tender story that has stayed with me, and has me praying for a sequel. 
Me with author, Barbara Claypole White, at the 2012 South
Carolina Writers Workshop Conference, Myrtle Beach, SC

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Un pour tous, tous pour un"

Translation: "All for one, one for all," the famous rallying cry of the three musketeers. Ironically, the phrase was introduced by the one character who was not part of the title trio--D'Artagnan. That's only one of the surprises I got when reading this classic.

A copy of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers had been patiently waiting for well over a year for me to pick it up. I kept reading other books because, let’s face it, it was written in 1844, meaning tediously verbose descriptions that I would have to skim or skip altogether.
Boy, was I thrilled to find instead lots of action and plenty of snappy dialogue—just my style. Even better, the stiff, macho musketeers I anticipated were superior swordsmen to be sure. But they were also flawed and funny players whose eccentricities were thoroughly endearing.

Set in France around 120 years before the story’s publication, the tale pits the soldiers loyal to the king against the guards of the royal advisor, Cardinal Richelieu. There is plenty of dueling—at the slightest provocation, actually—romance, and intrigue within the court of Louis XIII. The plot twists are fast-paced and fascinating, holding my attention all the way through. In fact, I read the entire book (635 pages) in three days.
We all know about a book's cover, but I'd also say you can't tell a book by your stereotypical preconceptions. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a great story. And if you’re bothering to read this review, that would likely be you.