Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 10-12

Apparently a typical American adult reads 5 books per year. I sometimes feel like a slacker when I know readers who regularly manage 200 or more in a year, but that article puts my ~100-120/year pace in perspective...

10) Rita Book #2: Not as fun a read as Book #1, unfortunately.

11) Rilla of Ingleside, by LM Montgomery.

I've read this book multiple times, but I decided I could count up to one re-read per month this year as long as it's a true beginning-to-end re-read rather than dipping in and out to read a few favorite scenes. Rilla is the 8th book of the well-beloved Anne of Green Gables series, but it's unique within the series for its strong and specific grounding in world events--specifically, World War I and the Canadian homefront experience.

The heroine, Anne's youngest daughter Rilla, turns 15 on the eve of the Great War's outbreak. She's finally old enough for dances, beaux, and the like and can hardly wait to experience the joys of almost-grown-up life. But instead she spends four years waiting at home while her brothers, sweetheart, and childhood playmates one by one go off to war. Over the course of the war she's transformed from a rather lazy and frivolous girl into a hardworking, capable young woman as she runs her village's Junior Red Cross and brings up a "war baby" whose mother dies while her husband is away fighting.

Reading this Kindle version, I kept encountering little snippets of description and dialogue I couldn't remember from my old paperback copy. I gave it to the library years ago, so I couldn't compare to confirm, but I was pretty sure I would've remembered exchanges like this one, where Anne is describing the time she tried to dye her hair black as a child:

"I bought a bottle of dye from a German Jew peddler. I fondly expected it would turn my hair black--and it turned it green. So it had to be cut off." 
"You had a narrow escape, Mrs. Dr. dear," exclaimed Susan. "Of course you were too young then to know what a German was. It was a special mercy of Providence that it was only green dye and not poison."

That's not the kind of thing you'd read and forget, to put it mildly, and one can easily see why it would've been cut from post-WWII editions! But there were other sections I couldn't quite remember, either--some of them additional expressions of anti-German bigotry, but others that were just LM Montgomery's typical lush descriptions. So I did some googling and discovered the versions most Gen X and Gen Y girls grew up reading were indeed abridged, but the original full text is now available in both the bargain Kindle version I have and in a new print edition released in 2010.

I've had friends tell me they dislike this book because of its false portrayal of WWI--the characters swallow whole every bit of anti-German propaganda their government dishes out, both author and characters are brutal to the village's one outspoken pacifist, and the soldiers and their families somehow fondly believe despite everything that their sacrifice is worthwhile and will lead to the building of a new and better world. But to me that's why this is an important book beyond its place as part of a classic childhood series. Of course you wouldn't want to get your entire history of WWI from it, but when you remember that it was published in 1921, you see it as almost as much a primary source document as a story. It becomes poignant and heartbreaking how very wrong these brave, well-intentioned people are about the war and its aftermath.

But for all that, I still read Rilla of Ingleside as a story, too. And I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but anything to do with Dog Monday (Rilla's brother's dog who decides to wait for him at the train station after he goes off with the very first batch of Canadian recruits) makes me get all misty-eyed.

12) Rita Book #3: Again, not a book I would've picked up on my own, but I wish all my Rita books were this strongly written.

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