I was sick throughout a lot of last winter (2019), and it was the most I could do to lie in bed and listen to audio books. I discovered Mary Anderson’s free reading Pollyanna through LibriVox, and was hooked from Chapter 1. Pollyanna Whittier is an optimistic little girl who has endured great trials in life but always manages to keep a positive attitude by playing what her father called the “Glad Game.” No matter what, she finds something to be glad about. When she is orphaned and must go to her mother’s hometown to live with a stuffy old aunt she’s never met before – who, despite her large estate, makes Pollyanna sleep in a hot attic – Pollyanna is perpetually glad.
The story is told in third-person omniscient, rotating from the maid’s point of view, to the aunt’s, and to various other characters’, as well as Pollyanna’s. One by one, sweet, young Pollyanna begins to change the lives and attitudes of every person she encounters in the town until, toward the end, when she finds herself in a bad situation, the whole town rallies behind her. This is a beautiful story about the difference one life, one child can make, and the power of innocence and positivity. I haven’t loved a classic this much since The Secret Garden, and I will treasure this story for years to come. Thanks to LibriVox for the free recording.
After having very much enjoyed listening to A Study in Scarlet on audio last year, I was looking forward to continuing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes adventures. I was a bit taken aback when the book opens with a rather alarming scene of Holmes shooting up cocaine. Watson protests the practice, but it’s odd to learn Sherlock Holmes was a junkie.
This audio book didn’t grip me the way the first book did. Stephen Fry did a wonderful job at the narration, but I found the romance developing between Dr. Watson and Mary Morstan to be tiresome, and the solving of the subsequent murder mystery was tainted for me personally by racist passages describing Indians and one particular man from the Andaman Islands. I recognize this is a reflection of the era Doyle lived and was writing in, but nowadays, comparing brown or black people to animals and monkeys is dehumanizing and disturbingly racist.
I do plan on continuing the series, however, to give it a chance to redeem itself. A Study in Scarlet, along with the shorter stories I remember reading in grade school, were enjoyable enough that I’m willing to give Holmes another shot.
I had attempted to read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a younger person, but usually the old-fashioned prose threw me off, and I had difficulty following it. Recently, I had the pleasure of coming across a free LibriVox recording of the audiobook (the version I listened to is here: https://librivox.org/a-study-in-scarlet-version-6-by-sir-arthur-conan-doyle/), which I very much enjoyed.
The book, narrated by Dr. Watson, begins with Dr. Watson’s account of how he first meets Sherlock Holmes through a mutual acquaintance while seeking a housemate to share the cost of rent. At once, he deduces Holmes to be a peculiar, eccentric, but pleasant man. After they move in together, Watson learns of Holmes’ unique business as a consulting detective. When an American is found murdered in London, and then the American’s assistant is murdered as well, Watson recounts Holmes’ journey to uncovering the murderer.
Part II was my favorite, however. We depart from London and visit the pioneering American southwest with a new set of characters, including the murderer. The story becomes a romantic western tragedy against a stunningly-described, desolate desert backdrop, sympathetic protagonists, and the (no doubt controversial, yet awful) villains of the story, Brigham Young and the Mormons. The story of John Ferrier and his adoptive daughter Lucy, and the love of Lucy’s life, a “gentile” hunter called Jefferson Hope, pulls at the heartstrings. When the story is through, I didn’t blame the murderer one bit for his actions! I was not expecting the perpetrator to be such a sympathetic protagonist with a cause.
I enjoyed this mystery and look forward to listening to more of Sherlock Holmes’ and Dr. Watson’s classic adventures.
I read Lois Lowry’s classic fantasy, The Giver, as an adult. In a Matched– or Hunger Games-like dystopian future, a boy’s destiny is chosen for him. He must become something of a memory keeper for his literally colorless society. As he awakens to the history of humanity, which he has never known, he discovers something else: the evil and corruption of his society. A haunting YA novel.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is a 1960s book far ahead of its time. It captured some cool concepts about space, aliens, good vs. evil, and even spirituality. I read this book twice: once as an eleven-year-old, and once as a twenty-year-old. I loved it both times, but got more out of it the second time. A very neat YA fantasy read, which I recommend.
Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937, penned by renowned author Zora Neale Hurston. We follow the story of Janie, a young African American woman who breaks all chains of tradition by refusing to marry the man her family had selected for her, and setting off to make her own life. She goes on to help found a new town with the husband of her choice. But when power gets to her husband’s head and their relationship no longer works, she does something unheard of for a woman of color in that time: she leaves. A tragic love story, well ahead of its time in depicting a woman’s journey to freedom and self-actualization, despite the restrictions upon her race and gender.
I was not expecting to enjoy the original Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker. I don’t like vampire books, after all. The beginning was difficult to get through, at first. But once the story started coming together, the accounts of different characters each blending together and making for a fascinating story told in fictional journal entries and newspaper clippings, I couldn’t put this gothic novel down! Especially when the characters banded together as a team to combat the evil presence roaming about, I was in love. I’m so fond of this classic old thriller for its spirit of friendship and adventure!
I never finished the last two of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia books, but read most of the series as a teenager. I must note, I read them solely for the story, and didn’t think to dissect them for religious symbolism (although I was aware of it). I began with The Magician’s Nephew, which was the last of the books to be written, but occurs first chronologically. The book attempts to explain the origin of the magical wardrobe, the professor, and the witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Lion… was a charming novel about the four Pevensie siblings who enter a magical world, Narnia, through a wooden wardrobe in an old professor’s mansion. As they are prophesied to, they engage in an epic battle of good vs. evil, the witch representing the devil, and the lion, Aslan, representing Christ.
The Horse and His Boy was my favorite of the series, based off of the book of Exodus. I liked reading about the Middle Eastern-like culture in this alternate universe. It does not feature the Pevensie children as the rest of the books do. Following this was Prince Caspian and Voyage on the Dawn Treader. Eustace was a great character, my favorite next to Edmund. I love characters who transform.
The Secret Garden (1911) by F. H. Burnett is one of the sweetest, most touching little novels I have ever read. We meet young Mary, sullen and cross, a friendless and unfriendly little girl. She is loathe to be moving to a mysterious home in the English moors. But the fresh, open air of the countryside and a few new friends work wonders on little Mary. I enjoyed her transition into a joyful, pleasant, enthusiastic character. I adore this novel and Mary’s character arc!