Tag Archives: henry james

what i’ve been reading (summer edition)

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Prince Edward Island, I re-read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series (through Anne of Ingleside). I first read these treasured books when I was about eleven, and this was my first time revisiting Anne and friends as an adult (other than the occasional viewing of the classic CBC movie from the 80s). While I remember loving reading about imaginative, romantic Anne’s humorous scrapes and coming of age, re-reading the books now makes me wonder if Anne was more of a role model for me than I realized. I’ve mentioned before that these books were a non-negligible factor in my decision to move to Nova Scotia. But upon reflection, my focus on education, engagement ring preferences, wedding location, and house of dreams by the ocean all may have been influenced by subconscious impressions left by an enthusiastic childhood reading of these books.

The buzz about the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie reminded me that I had been meaning to get around to reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for several years. I finally read it, and thought it was a lot of fun. It was basically all of the joy one expects from re-reading Pride and Prejudice, with occasional zombie silliness sprinkled in. There are amusing illustrations, too!

Next up was Daisy Miller, a novella by Henry James. This book was referred to many times in Reading Lolita in Tehran, and I tried several times to borrow it from the library, but it was always out. This situation led me to the unfortunate attempt at reading The Wings of the Dove (just watch the movie on Netflix). In contrast, Daisy Miller (which I finally got a free version of for my Kindle) was eminently readable – it was one of James’ earlier works. I found this story to be a captivating analysis of a traveling young American woman’s personality and the response of genteel European and expat society to her.

Now I’m reading The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje. I decided to read this book because a couple of people had mentioned that he is a great writer, and John Irving recently posted on Facebook that he thinks this book is a “really outstanding novel.” I’ve enjoyed enough of John Irving’s novels for his opinion on that topic to carry some weight.

i quit you

Ever since I read Reading Lolita in Tehran a few months ago, Daisy Miller by Henry James has been on my reading list. I’ve stopped by the library a couple of times in hopes of borrowing Daisy Miller, but it’s a popular book and hasn’t been there. I grabbed James’ Washington Square the first time, and found it to be a good read – nothing too extraordinary, but good. The second time, I borrowed James’ The Wings of the Dove. I knew it had been made into a movie, so I figured it must be good. Well…I found this book to be unreadable. After struggling to read about forty extremely convoluted pages, I had a muddled idea of what James was trying to describe, at best. To decide if I should persevere with this rambling, confusing book, I read some reviews on amazon.com, and found others who seemed to have similar feelings about The Wings of the Dove.

From Amazon reviewer JAD:

In this work dating from 1902, Henry James writes favoring obscurity over clarity, circuitousness instead of directness and vagueness rather than subtlety. When the reader struggles valiantly onward, it is much as if one were to attempt to hack one’s way through the trackless Amazonian rain forest using only tweezers and butter knife, all the while, wondering whether is it worth so much to learn so little. It is a question each reader must answer for herself or himself…..Kudos to all valiant readers who persist to the end.

From Amazon reviewer J. Breithaupt:

It’s astonishing to me that this thinly plotted, atrociously incomprehensible tangle of verbiage ever gained a reputation for being a ‘great work.’ Sadly, this was my first reading of James, and I’m powerfully dissuaded from wading any further into his inky depths. What a craven mess…..Meanwhile, for those interested in a far superior example of American fiction in the immediate post-Victorian era, try Edith Wharton’s brilliant and deeply moving “The House of Mirth,” which appeared just three years after “Wings…” With the former, you’ll occasionally re-read its sentences because you’ll want another taste of their construction and underlying wisdom, not – as with the latter book – because you are trying to decipher their unintentionally elusive sense.

This book is only the second in my life that I have given up on (the first being A Tale of Two Cities), and absolutely deserves the literary smackdown those reviewers gave it. I’m going to rent the movie and move on.