Little Women spoiler alert; recommended reads

January 19, 2011

Beth dies, OK? It catches me unawares every time because at first she almost dies but pulls through, then hundreds of pages later and blammo! Inasmuch as a slow, wasting death years in the making can be said to go blammo!

Blammo! is my highly subjective reaction, grooved into the brain from years of wishful thinking and denial. I willfully forget enough in the years between reading Little Women so that every time I make it through Beth’s initial illness and recovery I assure myself I was wrong, that I’d been misremembering her death because she almost dies but the fever breaks and whew! Crisis averted. And then she up and dies on me.

I still love the story despite its prissy, hearth-and-home platitudes—and, on a lesser note, I do wish the children and servants didn’t speak in their own precious pidgins, phonetically spelled, though that’s pretty commonplace for the book’s vintage. There’s a beating heart inside this book that masqueraded as an instruction manual for girls, a project somewhat cynically undertaken to pay off the Alcott family debts.  Wan and perfect little Beth may be too good for this world, but everyone else struggles with temper, imprudence, envy, pride, longing. Sisters die and so do babies (though not Meg’s twins, fear not! Dey wiv on for der marmar, who wuvs dem so); far away a war is raging.

***

I read lots of new books over the past year, too—new to me, not necessarily new releases. They deserve a great deal more than the short shrift they’re getting here, but in the spirit of clearing  the decks for 2011, here are a handful of books I found worthwhile yet failed to blog about in 2010:

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. Artistic/radical Edwardians navigating class upheaval, women’s suffrage, and eventually the Great War. Like all my Byatt favorites, threaded through with dark, contrapuntal fairy tales. A gajillion pages long, it accompanied me through many a late night.

The People’s Act of Love by James Meek. Siberia. Cannabalism. A love story.

At Home by Bill Bryson.  A room-by-room compendium of historical anecdotes ostensibly illuminating how the modern house evolved, but frequently spiraling off into marvelous, if tangential, rumination and reportage.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. A bit of a potboiler set in 1907 Wisconsin winter wasteland, full of repressed and not-so-repressed sexuality. The author says he was inspired by Wisconsin Death Trip, a remarkably bizarre scrapbook of turn-of-the century corpse photos and advice-to-the-lovelorn columns. Can there be any better recommendation?

 

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