Books Read Entire, Listed Chronologically
Updated 17 June 2013. This post is updated as I return to discussing my reading.
Ratings given follow the system established for the Red Wing Area Branch (AAUW) Book Club: 5-best; 4-top 20%, 3-middling, 2-less than average, 1-bottom. Other designations appear as BC – Branch Book Club selections. SF – Stratford Festival plays. YA-Title written for teenage or younger readers.
John Hassler, The New Woman (2005). BC. Hassler was a Minnesotan through and through, one of the states most popular authors. By popular, I mean he attracted large audiences to his readings. I was fortunate to hear him three times over a 15 year period and to have a conversation with him at the last. He was in charge of those presentations, assured and practiced in his delivery, but also modest about his accomplishments. Hassler wrote from a common background as though somewhere in the midst of the state; one series of his novels revolve around the city of Staggerford and its residents. Agatha McGee is one civic leader who appeared as a side figure in Staggerford (1977) where in Hassler’s words, “she took over” and went on to star in novels of her own – A Green Journey (1985) and Dear James (1993). Miss McGee returns in this one, eighty-eight in 1998.
A couple of bad turns in Agatha’s life move her to leave her big house on the river. She tries and then settles into Sunset Senior Apartments alongside some old friends and many strangers. Even though Hassler claimed to have given up short stories, this novel seems like three of them knit together. Agatha misses a diamond brooch she thinks stolen; she shelters a kidnapped child despite the law and her conscience, and she helps form a support group for the depressed. The overall plot unrolls Agatha’s internal life, and this is where Hassler excels; he is a master of characterization and stories that follow from character. Agatha, used to being in charge as a teacher and Catholic school principal, exercising her deep respect for tradition and morality even over the resident priest becomes for readers someone more than her apparent past.
Now, I want to read the other novels. 4
*Ursula K. Le Guin, Powers (2007). After Gifts (xxx) and Voices (xxx), this novel is the third in Le Guin’s series Annals of the Western Shore. Though I am a devoted fan of Le Guin, who has long inspired me, these books were previously unknown to me. I read Powers at once, savoring every word. Le Guin has said that “in art, the best is the standard,” and she endeavors to fulfill that aesthetic.
In her novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974), Le Guin contrasts different cultures with one another. In Powers, young Gavir experiences one culture after another. Gav and his older sister Sullo had been taken by slavers from their distant home and raised in the household of Arcamand, a patrician family of Etra, a city state, one among many. Their teacher was a slave who passed on his conservative learning and traditional understanding to Gavir so that the Arcas could provide continuing schooling for the children, both of the family and slaves. As a house slave, Gavir had opportunity to devote himself to learning and relationships within the household.
Suddenly the dark underside of slavery descends upon Gavir. His sister drowns, apparently due to sexual games of the young lords of the town. Overwrought with grief, Gavir wanders away witlessly and would have perished were it not for a barbaric hermit who shelters him. Afterwards Gavir spends time with a band of slaves, then as the seeming favorite of Barna’s band, Heart of the Forest. Barna advocates freedom for all, but acts otherwise as the man in control. Gavir moves on once again in quest of his origins, finds his own people, but realizes he is not one of them and seeks once more for a home that satisfies.
Ostensibly a fantasy because of the power of visioning the future, Le Guin uses each vivid setting and complex relationship of characters to illuminate the powers of self-discovery and identification. All this in the most excellent prose. 5, or close to it.
Copyright © 2010 by Roger Sween.
*Given to me by Cy Chauvin, who shares my taste in novels and well-knows what I like.
First appearing as Read in 10 in Ceptsform on Blogspot, the post moved as Read in 2010 to WordPress, 15 Nov. 2010.
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