Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Helllllo readers, I have a really exciting book review today because it just so happens to be my last classic book, completing the ten classic books challenge. I have had an odd relationship with classic books. Being forced to read them during my A levels I have always spited them and avoided them. However, I decided it was time to try a number of books and after including it in my 101 things challenge I haven’t looked back. I will be writing a follow up post about the challenge and I won’t be stopping reading and reviewing classic books, but for now, onto the review.

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Little Women is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), which was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. Alcott wrote the books rapidly over several months at the request of her publisher. The novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood, and is loosely based on the author and her three sisters.

When I first read this book (numerous times) at the age of nine or ten I really struggled. It is only now that I really think I can appreciate and understand the different characters and the language used. The book follows four sisters; Meg the mature one that longs for a more luxurious life. Jo the adventurous, slightly boyish one who wants to prove her worth, Beth the darling but fragile sister and Amy who is a little vain, but adores art. The book follows the sisters as they struggle through a number of hardships; with their father away at war, and money tight the girls must find ways to care for one another whilst learning certain lessons from their dear mother in 1860’s New England.

Yes the writing and language is very noticeably dated and times a little heavy but it is the characters that make this book so memorable. Alcott has a chatty way of writing, both graceful and twee it sings a tale of the beautiful but sometimes strained relationship between the four sisters. All are portrayed honestly, with their both their strengths and weaknesses; Meg a gentle character who lacks a little self-belief, Jo who struggles to contain her temper, Beth’s who is a very sweet but weaker character and Amy who worries about her ‘un-Grecian nose.’ All of this and the difficulties of poverty are woven in amongst the love and lessons taught by the girls wonderful mother. The men involved in the tale play secondary character roles, mainly there to show the strengths and weaknesses of the sisters but are written with thought and care.

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The characters are well developed as the book continues and the setting is well described throughout such as the beautiful little garden. My only real wobble would be the moral lessons that seem to be almost injected into every single chapter. It is a little cloying and tiring but in the end also enjoyable. I think in the time the book was written it would be a lot more popular, here in the 21st Century it is dated but it makes for a more educated and intriguing writing style. I wanted to read classics to explore a different way of writing and this style has definitely been more telling of the time in which is was written and published.

Re-reading the book now I definitely think that I was too young to read it, the wordiness and the ideas portrayed are difficult to understand at a younger age (for me anyway) but I adored the warmth, honesty and beautiful little telling. I’ve read a number of reviews of this book which have definitely prompted me to read in the series of books the author wrote but I can’t decide whether it will ruin the first if the second doesn’t follow the same writing style and beautiful character description. However, I really enjoyed this tale, despite my feminist notions and my bubbling fury at some of the themes. I can’t quite believe I’ve finished my classic book challenge but I’m so proud of myself getting it all finished so quickly. Now, what classic shall I read next?

101 things in 1001 days: Read ten classic novels

101 things in 1001 daysClassic books; from Tolstoy to Fitzgerald, Bronte to Lee we’ve all at some point come into contact with a classic from the cannon of books that are recognised as the cream of the crop. I have avoided them as like the plague for the majority of my book blogging life as it were. I refused to read classic books at school with Enduring Love being a particular sticking point. Why? They just weren’t really me, and pulling apart the commas, certain word use and the like, as well as being asked to read the book a number of times, by the end of the semester the book was ruined.

However, when I started writing my 101 things in 1001 day list I decided it was time to start reading the classics again and give the cannon another chance. I picked books that interested me; historical fiction based and picked authors that I had already read books from such as Orwell, Fitzgerald (although that didn’t work so well) and also books at school that I hadn’t got the chance to read. I asked friends and family what they would suggest and I created a list of sorts, with extras being added along the way.

My final list included
1) Down and Out in Paris and in London by George Orwell
2) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
3) Girl 20 by Kingsley Amis
4) The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
5) Factotum by Charles Bukowski
6) Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
7) Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
8) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
9) Animal Farm by George Orwell
10) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
And, because I’m a little bit dopy
11) Gerald’s Party by Robert Coover

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On this list there are some utter stunning books, that I have had the pleasure of reading over the past few months and each has taught or shown me something about reading. Coover, Amis, and Plath all showed me how the writing of classic books can differ so greatly and yet still be incredible reads. Orwell showed me that all of his books are so different in content and yet they can be linked so quickly through the sheer in-depth nature of the meaning interwoven into every single word. Capote gave me one of my favourite books and brought Holly Golightly to life in a way I didn’t expect possible.

Harper Lee and John Steinbeck showed me that not all books taught in education are painful and that I need to go back and look at the books I so quickly dismissed. Reading Alcott finally allowed to me get through a childhood reading block and James Baldwin’s book almost reduced me to tears. Finally Bukowski and Coover showed me that even classics can be incredibly exciting in terms of the style and that I have read nothing like them in any of the contemporary novels I’ve come across so far.

I guess you could say in the last few months I’ve taken my hat and eaten it. I had it all wrong about the classics, but then, when you’re forced to read books it’s unlikely to make it more enjoyable. Being able to choose my own books; Wuthering Heights, (which I have read) and Dickens are unlikely to bring rave reviews but give me grit from Orwell and Bukowski and I’m a happy bunny.

One way to really show my new found love of classic fiction is recently for a Top Ten Tuesday post I was allowed to pick my own topic and, you guessed it, I decided to pick my next ten classics. I have learnt so much through this 101 thing to do and I have created a love of classic fiction which you will definitely be seeing more of as MLBB continues. *eeee*

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Afternoon readers, finally another classic book review for you today. I received this book from Mumma B a couple of months ago when we were shopping for a bookmark in Waterstones. If there was medal for losing book marks I would win first prize. I’ve bought a wonderful metal one shaped as like an @ sign to mark “where you’re at” in the book which I thought was rather lovely. Mumma B picked up a copy of this book at the till and passed it over for me to read and to pass onto her when I was finished. It’s taken a little while to get this read but it’s a truly wonderful book that definitely deserves a read.

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‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.

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This is a stunning book, told through the eyes of a wonderfully educated six-year old girl with the prose and style of an adult. The book, set in a small fictional town in Alabama documents her father’s determination as a lawyer to prove that Tom Robinson accused of raping a white girl is innocent. This surrounded by a wealth of interweaving plot lines, the troubles of going to school, the arguments with her brother Jem (who I adored) and her Aunt’s belief that she should be brought up to be as like a lady. Despite this the two children, Scout and Jem, grow up in a happy environment. The book is a constant babble of interesting storylines about the small town , gently but definitely portraying the extremes of racism that was suffered by the black people of the town and defended by the white liberal lawyer Atticus and the problems and prejudiced views this caused to both.

The writing is sublime and the characters lift effortlessly from the page. Scout is stubborn, bossy and nosy but she is an adorable character, quick to learn and loyal to the bone. Jem is also a delight a little more understanding and little older than Scout he teaches his sister and keeps a watchful eye although often also getting them into trouble. Dill is erratic and emotional but I adored watching him intermix with the two siblings. Each of the characters, Tom, Boo, Atticus are all well-built and given incredibly strong profiles. It’s a delight to read. The writing style and the way the characters talk is evocative of the time and you can almost hear the American drawl in their words.

To Kill a Mockingbird, an evocative title for the book, focuses on the gut instinct of right and wrong and that doesn’t just mean by the law. There is a very interesting scene between Atticus, Scout and Jem where they discuss the trial and we get to the see the inner-workings of Atticus defending Tom Robinson and his teaching of such morals to his children. The novel does discuss and talk about a number of issues along the thought of prejudice, violence and hypocrisy and this is constantly juxtaposed between the thoughts of the town at the time and the rational and educated mind of Scout taught by her father. Despite this her narrative voice is often innocent and wonderfully blunt.

The book is difficult to sum up in a simple sentence; although this one from Atticus works rather well

“It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

 It’s a mixture of comedy, tragedy and the workings of every-day life. It’s a book about people and the issue of race and prejudice. For me I fell for the writing of the book and the stunning character profiling and the dialect that is conveyed. It’s a wonderful and beautifully crafted book that will stay with me for a long time.