Friday, December 16, 2011

by Claire Tomalin

He was considered to be the greatest novelist of the nineteenth century. As a writer of twenty novels, several short story collections, poetry, plays, and stories for two separate magazines, Charles Dickens was quite prolific. The public loved him because his works portrayed their life. He was a keen observer and nothing went to chance. Everything about English society entranced him.
Dickens was born into poverty. His father could never hold a job and the family constantly moved to escape creditors. When his father was sent to prison, Dickens had to work in a factory. He hated it and didn't last long there. His next major job was as a court reporter. Some really sorry cases were tried and were quite upsetting to Dickens. He would use them in his writings (all of his fiction had many autobiographical elements in them, particularly David Copperfield). Ideas for novels came to him and he was off running never stopping until the end.
It was truly fascinating reading about this over-the-top persona who had such greatness but at the same time was very flawed. Dickens was extremely generous with friends, was a philanthropist (he financed a home for fallen women), gave to the needy, supported other writers by editing their writings and having their works published, gave readings of what he himself had written to adoring crowds (he was quite theatrical and if he hadn't become a writer, he would have been an actor). The flip side was that Dickens was a terrible father (he had ten children) and most of the time ignored them and would complain years later about having so many. His long suffering wife was treated miserably by him (they shouldn't have been married in the first place). So while he was perceived as being a humanist and virtuous, Dickens would destroy his own life betraying and deceiving the ones closest to him.
Claire Tomalin has written an impeccably researched biography on Charles Dickens. At 417 pages (not including 70 pages of Notes), the book is quite hefty. Starting with the beginning, there are maps with their own separate Key; and a Cast List of the families on both sides and every single person who came in contact with Dickens.
Although there is tons of information, the book is quite readable. If you're a fan of Dickens but don't really know much about him, check this one out.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

by Theresa Weir

To spray, or not to spray, that is the question. If you have an apple orchard, the only choice is to use pesticides otherwise the codling moth will destroy all of the crops. To go organic is not an option.
Theresa Weir, while working at her uncle's bar, fell in love with Adrian Curtis, the son of local farmers in Iowa when she was twenty-one. They got married and she was forever rejected by his family because she was an outsider. She will only be accepted if she follows their ways. The farm has existed for generations and it must continue. Dangerous chemicals permeate everything around them and it's not a life that neither Theresa nor Adrian want their children to experience.
The Orchard is both a beautiful and dark book. It's beautiful due to the simple, spare, and honest writing. There is an undercurrent of suspense throughout (no suprise, there, because Weir writes under the pseudonym Anne Frasier and she's well-known for her tales of mystery).
In her current book, there are chapters about her earlier life with her mother and siblings. It's good to see these interventions so as to get an idea of Weir's personality and where she came from. Once you start reading, you are immediately absorbed. It's a small book and can be finished in one day.
Haunting, hypnotizing, mesmerizing are the best words to describe this tale.
Very highly recommended.