Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl




Ah the adventure classic. This was the first one that sprang to mind when I saw that it was on the list of categories of Karen’s Back to the Classics challenge 2016. You can choose to read something fictional or non-fictional but for me, it was a push to finally read Kon-Tiki.

You may already know the story, Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian, has this crazy idea to take a hand-built raft out onto the Pacific, trying to prove that the Polynesian islands were reachable from South America. He and four other men sailed from Peru for 101 days across the Pacific Ocean, eventually crashing into a reef in the Tuamotu Islands.

Of course it’s not that easy. They face some difficult right from the start.

As with any cross-country (cross-sea?) expedition, permissions must be given, supplies are necessary, funding is drummed up, crew is cajoled (although he specifies, no seamen). But with this adventure, a raft must also be crafted, and it must be from  balsa wood. Balsa wood was apparently what the old Peruvian rafts were made of. Balsa being lighter even than cork. Unfortunately, they arrive in Ecuador to discover that it was rather impossible to buy whole logs of balsa, as thousands of trees had been felled and shipped to aircraft factories. And that they would have to go inland to find large balsa trees. Of course it was the rainy season and the roads into the jungle were impassable. But despite being told to come back six months later, they persevere and get hold of their logs.

As with any adventure story, there must be talk of thrilling near-death experiences with nature and wild animals. In this case, it is the octopus.

We were reminded that they lay floating in the darkness with phosphorescent eyes and that their arms were long enough to feel about in every small corner of the raft, if they did not care to come right on board. We did not at all like the prospect of feeling cold arms round our necks, dragging us out of our sleeping bags at night, and we provided ourselves with saber-like machete knives, one for each of us, in case we should wake to the embrace of fumbling tentacles.

Luckily they only come across small squids. But also, plenty of sharks and once even a whale shark.

And of course there’s a storm, a huge mother of all storms, that the men have to stare down from that little raft of theirs.

It is a wild, thrilling adventure. It is occasionally repetitive as, well, days and days out at sea will probably be repetitive ones. But oh man, can you imagine it? Being out there in the wide open sea, just drifting along, catching fish for dinner, hoping somehow that they end up in the Polynesian islands. And somehow they make it, against all odds, they get there and more or less intact too. Amazing.

What’s your favourite adventure classic (fictional or not?)


I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 – an adventure classic

On rereading a childhood favourite


This was the cover of the copy I had as a kid


There’s something both exciting and daunting about reading a childhood favourite after many many years.

It’s exciting to be brought back to one’s childhood again. To see this book with adult eyes.

And that’s exactly what makes it a bit daunting. What if it doesn’t live up to your glorified expectations? To that highest of high esteem that you have held it to all these years? And what, just what would happen, if you realize that this book that you’ve idolised, that you’ve been in love with all these years, is just not really the book that you thought it was.


This is the latest version from MacMillan

So it was with great relief that I finished Rumer Godden’s Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. And it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered it to be.

Nona, 8, a quiet shy girl, has just moved from India to stay with her cousins in England. She’s sad and lonely and doesn’t know how to adapt to her new life with her far more boisterous cousins Anne, 14, Tom, 11, and Belinda,”a rough tough little girl of seven”.

One day a parcel arrives from America, from their Great Aunt Lucy Dickinson, and inside are two Japanese dolls, named Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Nona feels for the dolls who also have travelled a great distance and are far from home. With the encouragement of her older cousins and her aunt and uncle, she decides to make them a house, a doll’s house, a proper Japanese doll’s house. And as her plans begin to take shape, Nona herself blossoms and emerges from her shell, and more importantly, begins to make a home for herself in England.

One thing that always stood out for me was the way books and reading were given great significance in this book. Like when Nona, who was “always reading”, discovered that books could also teach her about making things like a doll’s house.


“I didn’t know you could learn to carpenter out of books.’

‘You can learn anything out of books,’ said Tom.

‘A book like this?’

Tom nodded.

‘Oh!’, said Nona. She stood by him a moment longer and then said, ‘Thank you, Tom.’

And her first solo outing that she dares to brave is to the village bookshop, run by the gruff old Mr Twilfit, whom Anne calls “an absolute old dragon”, although Nona learns that he can be sweet and gentle, especially to girls who wash their hands before handling his books. She eventually tells him about the dolls and her plans to make a Japanese house. And he asks a wonderful question.

“Can you read?” he rapped out.

“Of course,” said Nona.

“Really read?”

That was one thing Nona was quite sure she could do, and she nodded.


Ah, the power and the magic of books. Nona begins to read and read and learn all about Japanese culture, Japanese houses, furniture, flowers, and more. She does need Tom’s help to build the house itself though, and Mr Twilfit plays a part in that.

I always wondered if Godden was inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, the story of the girl who returns to England from India. But I only recently realized that Godden herself lived in India for many years as a child, then returned to England for school, and was brought back again to India when the First World War broke out. Back again to England to finally finish school, then as an adult, back to India where she lived for some 20 years before moving back to England.

Rumer Godden’s daughter said her mother wrote children’s books between novels, “as she said it was a very good discipline as you must never write down to children or use too much description”.

And I think she hit the right notes with this book – and even provides some basic blueprints in case the reader wants to make her own doll house.



I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 and Read My Own Damn Books





Reading Alberto Moravia’s Conjugal Love


“To begin with I’d like to talk about my wife. To love means, in addition to many other things, to delight in gazing upon and observing the beloved. And this means delighting not only in the contemplation of the beloved’s charms, but also in her imperfections, few or many as they may be.”

At 144 pages, this is a rather short book and that’s a good thing. Not because the writing is bad, oh not that at all. But more because I just detested the main character – a self-absorbed rich guy who fancies himself a writer. After a year of marriage, he and his wife Leda take off to the countryside so that he can write his masterpiece. The catch is, no sex for them until he is done.

Oh boy. You can see where that will end up. Then Moravia throws a spanner into the works, with the daily visit of the portly village barber who comes to shave Silvio – he claims he can’t shave himself. Well, let’s just say that things just go downhill from there.

This is my first time reading a book by Alberto Moravia (Words without Borders calls him ‘the Beethoven of bad sex‘), and it was rather fascinating to see how he developed the story, short as it may be. The way Silvio acutely observes Leda, describing her features, her beauty, as well as some darker and uglier aspects of her that occasionally lash out.

“Her entire body would cringe, like a person who is afraid or revolted by something; like a mime or a dancer, she thrust her arms and legs forward in a gesture of defense and repugnance, but at the same time, her body arched in a gesture of invitation and provocation.”

And yet, this keen observer is unable to see what is happening with his wife. So since the reader is, in a sense, trapped, seeing things only from Silvio’s (rather opaque) point of view, we are slow to understand what is going on.

This parable of marriage is a quick intense read. It was a random grab off the library shelves, mostly because I was attracted to its length (short) and cover (ooh typewriter) and the fact that it’s a work in translation (translated by Marina Harss).

I am curious about his other books. Have you read anything by Alberto Moravia before? He’s written so many other books, which would you recommend I read next?



I read this book (published in 1951) for the Back to the Classics Challenge – a classic in translation

Conjugal Love was first published in Italian in 1947, first translated into English in 1951. I read the version published in 2007 by Other Press, translated by Marina Harss

Library Looting some classics

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.


Just one book for me this week. This one is for the Back to the Classics challenge. And will also count for the Diversity on the Shelf challenge


The Makioka Sisters – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

In Osaka in the years immediately before World War II, four aristocratic women try to preserve a way of life that is vanishing. As told by Junichiro Tanizaki, the story of the Makioka sisters forms what is arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century, a poignant yet unsparing portrait of a family–and an entire society–sliding into the abyss of modernity.

Tsuruko, the eldest sister, clings obstinately to the prestige of her family name even as her husband prepares to move their household to Tokyo, where that name means nothing. Sachiko compromises valiantly to secure the future of her younger sisters. The unmarried Yukiko is a hostage to her family’s exacting standards, while the spirited Taeko rebels by flinging herself into scandalous romantic alliances. Filled with vignettes of upper-class Japanese life and capturing both the decorum and the heartache of its protagonist, The Makioka Sisters is a classic of international literature.


Also, one e-book hold came in:


Oreo – Fran Ross

Love the cover!

Oreo is raised by her maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. Her black mother tours with a theatrical troupe, and her Jewish deadbeat dad disappeared when she was an infant, leaving behind a mysterious note that triggers her quest to find him. What ensues is a playful, modernized parody of the classical odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, immersed in seventies pop culture, and mixing standard English, black vernacular, and Yiddish with wisecracking aplomb. Oreo, our young hero, navigates the labyrinth of sound studios and brothels and subway tunnels in Manhattan, seeking to claim her birthright while unwittingly experiencing and triggering a mythic journey of self-discovery like no other.



And the kids’ loot as usual…


Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?



2016 Reading Challenges

Ah, a new year, a clean slate! And this year, with my number of books read set back to zero, I would like to begin again and join some challenges. More importantly, I will try my very best to maintain my enthusiasm for the challenges throughout the year!




Karen at Books and Chocolate is once again hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge,  where we will be reading books written at least 50 years ago (by 1966) in 12 different categories. Or at least I hope to be able to read books in all 12 categories!

1. A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.

An Old-Fashioned Girl – Louisa May Alcott (published 1869)

2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1966.

The Making of a Marchioness – Frances Hodgson Burnett (published 1901)

3.  A classic by a woman author.

Read: Miss Happiness and Miss Flower – Rumer Godden (published 1961)

The Time of Man – Elizabeth Madox Roberts (published 1935)

4.  A classic in translation.

Read: Alberto Moravia’s Conjugal Love (translated from Italian)
Journey to the End of the Night – Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Ralph Manheim (Translator) (published 1932)
Dom Casmurro – Machado de Assis (published in 1899)
The Makioka Sisters – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Edward G. Seidensticker (Translator) (published 1943)

5.  A classic by a non-white author.

Read: The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry (published 1959)
Go Tell it On the Mountain – James Baldwin (published 1953)
The Train to Pakistan – Khushwant Singh (published 1956)

6.  An adventure classic – can be fiction or non-fiction.

Read: Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lewis Galantière (Translator) (published 1939)
Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak – Maurice Herzog (published 1951)

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic.

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K Dick (published 1962)
When the Sleeper Wakes – HG Wells (published 1899)

8.  A classic detective novel.

The Crime at Black Dudley – Margery Allingham (published 1929)
And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (published 1939)

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.

Howard End – EM Forster
Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review.

A Separate Peace – John Knowles

according to the ALA: Challenged in Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” Challenged at the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, Pa. (1985) because of its allegedly offensive language. Challenged as appropriate for high school reading lists in the Shelby County, Tenn. school system (1989) because the novel contained “offensive language.” Challenged at the McDowell County, N.C. schools (1996) because of “graphic language.” Source: Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, May 1980, p. 62; Nov. 1985, p. 204; Jan, 1990, pp 11-12; Jan. 1997, p. 11.

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college). 

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift (published 1726)

12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories.

Stories – Katherine Mansfield (published 1956)


#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks over at Estellas Revenge


I’ve got a pile of books on my night stand, and another next to my Macbook. Both of which I hope to clear by the end of 2016.





Diversity on the Shelf 2016 over at The Englishist

I’ve taken part in Aarti’s Diversiverse for the past couple of years now, but I try to read as diversely as possible throughout the year too. I just need to post about these books already. Hopefully this challenge will encourage me to do more of that.

I’m going for 5th Shelf: Read 25+ books


1. Delicious Foods – James Hannaham
2. Supermutant Magic Academy – Jillian Tamaki
3. Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order – Gene Luen Yang
4. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye – Sonny Liew
5. The Makioka Sisters – Junichiro Tanizaki
6. The Wrath and the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh
7. The Old Garden – Hwang Sok-yong
8. Nijigahara Holograph – Inio Asano
9. The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah
10. Fresh off the Boat – Eddie Huang
11. Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness – Jennifer Tseng
12. Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari
13. The Paper Menagerie and other stories – Ken Liu
14. Who Slashed Celanire’s throat? A Fantastical Novel – Maryse Conde
The Partner Track by Helen Wan
15. Half a Lifelong Romance by Eileen Chang

I’m not going to list all the books right now, instead, I’m noting some books already on the lists of my other challenges (see above)

In the Light of What we know – Zia Haider Rahman
Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and other stories – Cyril Wong
The Makioka Sisters – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Edward G. Seidensticker (Translator)
A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry
Go Tell it On the Mountain – James Baldwin
The Train to Pakistan – Khushwant Singh

I’m also adding to that some books on my list for Diversiverse last year that I never got to
Skin Folk: stories by Nalo Hopkinson
Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho


Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader
Non-fiction Reading Challenge – The Introverted Reader

Explorer–Read 6-10

What makes this book so great – Jo Walton
Why I read: the serious pleasure of books – Wendy Lesser
Fire shut up in my bones – Charles M Blow
Four seasons in Rome – Anthony Doerr
Population: 485 – Michael Perry
Between the World and Me: – Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up – Liao Yiwu, Wenguang Huang (Translator)
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto

(and more to come)

Back to the Classics challenge 2015 – wrapping up!

So about a year ago, I declared my intentions to join three reading challenges.

And failed miserably at two of them!

Surprisingly, I managed to meet my goal for the Back to the Classics challenge, which was to finish six categories. I read 9 books, although I only blogged about 8 of them. So yay! That is indeed one successful challenge! I am so bad at this…. I think I mostly join challenges just to make reading lists… and then forget them a few months down the road.


A Forgotten Classic: Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood

A Classic in Translation: The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai by Han Bangqing

A Classic Novella: Four Girls and a Compact by Annie Hamilton Donnell

A Classic with a name in its title: Mildred Pierce

A Classic Children’s Book: Mary Poppins

A 20th Century ClassicThe Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

A Nonfiction Classic: To Sir with Love by E.R. Braithwaite

A Classic Play: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie

A 19th Century Classic: Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell (didn’t blog about this, but really liked it, as I tend to like most books by Gaskell).

I am tempted to join in next year’s challenge as I know I always need a push to read more classics! How about you? What reading challenges have caught your eye?

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie


The Mousetrap is the world’s longest running play. This year will be its 63rd year. 2012, its 60th year, also marked its 25,000th performance. Its author, Agatha Christie, didn’t expect the play to last more than eight months.

In a Guardian article, Ian Watt-Smith, director of the touring show, said about the play: “You have to concentrate on the reality of the situation. Everyone is trapped in this guesthouse – they have no means of contacting the outside world, and the murderer is among them. No one is quite what they seem. They all have secrets. You have to encourage the characters to play the real backstory and then cover it up, which is a challenge.”

I’ve never seen the play, nor did I really have much of an inkling of the story except that since it was written by Agatha Christie, it had to have a murder mystery within.

And ah there it was, in a snowed-in rooming house, where a young couple has just opened their house to their first guests, someone is found dead. And they’re all a little odd and suspicious in some way.

(While tapping my fingers on my keyboard, thinking what to write next about this play, I did think of something else, Kate Milford’s Greenglass House a book I thoroughly enjoyed last year. A book also set in a snowed-in inn, a mystery and more. So one good thing coming out of my having read The Mousetrap is now being able to nod and say sagely, ah yes, Milford was likely to have been inspired by The Mousetrap and other similar type mysteries).

There’s Mrs Boyle, an uppity older woman critical of everything at the rooming house. Major Metcalf, retired from the army. The rather odd Miss Casewell. Mr Paravicini, an unexpected guest who claims his car is stuck in the snow. Christopher Wren says he’s an architect but he’s acting suspiciously (not to say that architects can’t act suspiciously). Mollie and Giles Ralston, husband and wife, run Monkswell Manor. Then there’s Sergeant Trotter, who’s trying to find out what’s going on.

Everyone is a suspect. And it’s fun to try to come up with your own guesses at whodunnit.

Of course there is a twist at the end. This one, I don’t know, it just felt a bit odd and unsatisfying. Just in case you haven’t read it before or seen the play, I’ll just leave it at that. Maybe it really ought to be seen as a play, to be part of the experience of watching this murder-mystery unfold ‘live’ before your very eyes. It was still a fun read though.




I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge – A Classic Play

To Sir with Love by E.R. Braithwaite



It’s odd how this book found its way onto my bookshelves growing up. I’m not sure who bought it, as it doesn’t really seem like a book that kids read, but we had quite a few of this series of books, published by Heinemann. And yes! That cover above is the very same one on the book I used to own.


The other books that we had in this series were Anita Desai’s A Village by the Sea, and Ursula K Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. At least these were the three that I remember.

I’m not sure what I thought of To Sir with Love, reading it as a preteen. I liked it enough to read it finish, and be able to recall today some of the details about the lives of the teens, the dances at the school and their school outings. You know, those kinds of things that a preteen would be interested in. So at least those parts were familiar to me.

But to read it today, in my mid-30s, I am struck by how much I am affected by it, at times even angry at it. For it’s not just about being a teacher in England and teaching kids from a poor section of society, but also about being black in post-WWII England. In Braithwaite’s case, to have grown up in British Guiana, being taught British literature and history, and having a romanticised view of good old England.

“I suppose I had entertained some naively romantic ideas about London’s East End, with its cosmopolitan population and fascinating history. I had read references to it in both classical and contemporary writings and was eager to know the London of Chaucer and Erasmus and the Sorores Minores.”

But then being in England, he finds that things weren’t the way he was hoping it to be. After serving in the Royal Airforce during WWII, Braithwaite finds it hard to get a job because of the colour of his skin, and he turns to teaching. He learns that racism in England is a far different picture from that in the US.

“In Britain I found things to be very different. I have yet to meet a single English person who has actually admitted to anti-Negro prejudice; it is even generally believed that no such thing exists here. A Negro is free to board any bus or train and sit anywhere, provided he has paid the appropriate fare; the fact that many people might pointedly avoid sitting near him is casually overlooked. He is free to seek accommodation in any licensed hotel or boarding house—the courteous refusal which frequently follows is never ascribed to prejudice. The betrayal I now felt was greater because it had been perpetrated with the greatest of charm and courtesy.”

One of the most emotional scenes was when he was on a date with his colleague, who is white. They were celebrating her birthday at a nice restaurant. The service starts out slow, compared to that shown to other diners. The waiter isn’t outright rude nor does he refuse to serve them but “his manner casual with an implied discourtesy”. The last straw is when he spills Rick’s soup onto the tablecloth then sneers at him.

“The whole thing was suddenly too big for me, too involved, too mixed-up with other people, millions of other people whom I did not know, would never know, but who were capable of hating me on sight because of her; not because she was beautiful and good and cultured and lovable, but merely because she was white.”

I realize that I’ve been talking more about race issues rather than the teaching. This is a book that is about teaching teenagers after all. It is inspiring, the way he turns the kids around, encouraging them to learn, to be respectful to each other and to their teachers. He opens their eyes and makes them see possibilities, like, I suppose, any good teacher should. And it makes me wonder what happened to these kids after they left school. Braithwaite hints at jobs and apprenticeships that some were to take up, but we don’t know for sure. Braithwaite leaves us on a rather heartwarming note, so there is hope that everything turns out well.

I’m now rather curious about the 1967 movie version! Have you seen it? What did you think of it?




To Sir, With Love (1959)
Paid Servant (1962)
A Kind of Homecoming (1962)
Solid Lubricants And Surfaces (1964)
Choice of Straws (1965)
Lubrication And Lubricants (1967)
Reluctant Neighbors (1972)
Honorary White (1975)
Molybdenum, Vol. 19 (1994)
Hurricane Hits England (Preface – 2000)
Billingsly: The Bear With The Crinkled Ear (2008)



I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge – A Nonfiction Classic

Mildred Pierce

I was browsing the Amazon Prime videos one night. They’ve got a selection of HBO series these days, and one of them was the miniseries Mildred Pierce, starring Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood. I watched it for a few minutes, the setting, the mood of the show was intriguing. Glendale California, 1931. Mildred Pierce is making a cake (always a good beginning in my book), her husband comes in, they argue about a woman he’s been seeing. He leaves.



But knowing that it was first a book, I stopped watching. I’m a reader first and a TV watcher second. So I might binge-rewatch one too many episodes of Gilmore Girls, but that usually happens in the background while I’m reading a book. (yes, I know, I really shouldn’t).

Off went the show, pulled up the Firefox and requested myself a copy from the library.





Of course the library copy had to have that Kate Winslet image on the cover! But I dug up some old covers just for you.

There is definitely an emphasis on the ‘passion’ in these two, although the first one kind of says “she’s having an affair” or “here, let’s turn your back to the door so that my partner-in-crime there can knock you senseless with his fist”. I can’t quite tell with the expressions on those men’s faces.

“Well, you’ve joined the biggest army on earth. You’re the great American institution that never gets mentioned on the Fourth of July — a grass widow with two small children to support.”

At any rate, Mildred Pierce is separated from her husband. She now has two kids to support – darling little Ray (her name is Moire but no one ever calls her that), and grown-up-too-fast Veda, snooty, who wants only what the rich kids want. Her husband’s real estate business has pretty much gone under although he still aspires for a better life. Mildred takes on a waitressing job, at first despairing at having her children know that she has to wear a uniform and wait on tables (and have her legs felt up). So she doesn’t tell them about it until Veda finds out. Then somehow gathers enough to start up her own restaurant – chicken, waffles and pie. And business takes off. Her life seems to be blossoming. She meets a rich playboy. Veda takes up the piano. She slogs away at the restaurant. Everything she does is for her children. And perhaps it is all too much.

Ugh that Veda. She really is that kind of character you just have to dislike. Yes, she is a terror, and yes, Mildred had her hand in that. But Veda is so very pretentious and vicious and hateful despite what seems like a pleasant enough middle-class upbringing. The LA Review of Books called her “the single most hideous offspring in modern literature”. (This article by the way, has some fun insights into James M Cain’s background). And the movie version, starring Joan Crawford, even turned Veda into a murderer.

Although the movie takes a rather dramatic departure from the book, Cain’s tale of suburban noir is masterful and dark and is the kind of story that makes you wonder what secrets your neighbours hide. In Mildred’s case, there is passion for sure, affairs and such, plenty of alcohol although Prohibition is going on. But despite all that sunshine in the Golden State, there is a shadow that looms over the Pierce family.

In an interview with the Paris Review in 1977, Cain said that his books are love stories:

“This girl came to interview me the other day. She must have spent the whole trip thinking up the question: How do I see myself as part of the Literature of Violence? I take no interest in violence. There’s more violence in Macbeth and Hamlet than in my books. I don’t write whodunits. You can’t end a story with the cops getting the killer. I don’t think the law is a very interesting nemesis. I write love stories. The dynamics of a love story are almost abstract. The better your abstraction, the more it comes to life when you do it—the excitement of the idea lurking there. Algebra. Suspense comes from making sure your algebra is right. Time is the only critic. If your algebra is right, if the progression is logical, but still surprising, it keeps.”


Mildred Pierce was a surprisingly good read. It was a great depiction of life in America in the 1930s – Depression, Prohibition and all those times of struggle. But what I liked most was that it was a story of suburban life, the desperation and despair, the hope and helplessness, the successes and the sadness. I guess I never quite expected that it would be a story that I would feel that desperate need to finish, to read through the night and put it down and think, ok I really need to write about this in the hopes that someone else would see this post of mine and read the book and like it too.

And let me say it again: fried chicken, waffles and pie.



cainJames M Cain (July 1, 1892 – October 27, 1977) was born in Maryland. He wanted to be a singer but his mother, an opera singer, told him his voice wasn’t good enough. So after college, he wrote for Baltimore American and then the Baltimore Sun. 




Our Government (1930)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
Serenade (1937)
Mildred Pierce (1941)
Love’s Lovely Counterfeit (1942)
Career in C Major and Other Stories (1943)
Double Indemnity (1943) (first published in Liberty Magazine, 1936)
The Embezzler (1944) (first published as Money and the Woman, Liberty Magazine, 1938)
Past All Dishonor (1946)
The Butterfly (1947)
The Moth (1948)
Sinful Woman (1948)
Jealous Woman (1950)
The Root of His Evil (1951) (also published as Shameless)
Galatea (1953)
Mignon (1962)
The Magician’s Wife (1965)
Rainbow’s End (1975)
The Institute (1976)
The Baby in the Icebox (1981); short stories
Cloud Nine (1984)
The Enchanted Isle (1985)
The Cocktail Waitress


I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge – A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title

Mary Poppins



I’m just going to say it – the movie was better than the book!

I wasn’t really expecting the book to start singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to me. Although, wouldn’t that be fabulous?? 

So the book was less musical and a little less magical than I was expecting. I have to add that my memory of the film is a long-ago one. I remember parts of it, mostly the songs, and the chimney sweeps. But while it is a hazy memory, it is a saccharine sweet, cheerful, colorful one. It is a Disney movie so I’m guessing that my recollection is somewhat right!

But the book, it isn’t all sweet:

“Perhaps she was only being nice,” said Jane to soothe him, but in her heart she felt as disturbed as Michael was. She knew very well that Mary Poppins never wasted time in being nice.”

As book-Mary Poppins is less cheery and far stricter than movie-Mary Poppins aka Julie Andrews ever was.

Apparently, author PL Travers couldn’t stand the movie version of her book, partly because of that. The story of the development of her book into the film was turned into Saving Mr Banks, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. I’ve yet to see it but since finishing book-Mary Poppins I was curious about it and did some googling. It was raved about mostly, with 80% on the Tomatometer but the Time magazine reviewer wasn’t quite convinced:

Saving Mr. Banks tries to turn a lie about securing a book’s film rights into a parable about St. Walt and the Dragon Lady. I hereby denounce the movie and all its works (except for Hanks). But for a few moments there, I was like the movie’s P.L. Travers, helpless under the Disney spell.

But I’m still curious about the struggle to turn the book into the Academy Award-winning 1964 movie. PL Travers refused to give up the copyrights to the rest of the Mary Poppins series, and when she allowed when Cameron Mackintosh to produce the stage musical, she added the condition that only English-born writers and no one from the film production, especially the Disney songwriters, were to be directly involved with creating it.

As for reading this children’s classic as a 30-something, well, I’m not convinced that my younger self would have enjoyed it. Book-Mary Poppins is a little bit, well, cantankerous at times. She’s hardly the kind of nanny who would hug and dance and sing. But you know that deep down inside, she really does care for the kids.

As an adult, parts of the book were rather humorous.

“Where have you been?” they asked her.
“In Fairyland,” said Mary Poppins.
“Did you see Cinderella?” said Jane.
“Huh, Cinderella? Not me,” said Mary Poppins, contemptuously. “Cinderella, indeed!”
“Or Robinson Crusoe?” asked Michael.
“Robinson Crusoe— pooh!” said Mary Poppins rudely.
“Then how could you have been there? It couldn’t have been our Fairyland!”
Mary Poppins gave a superior sniff.
“Don’t you know,” she said pityingly, “that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?”

And some bits that were a bit sobering, especially considering that it’s a children’s book

We are all made of the same stuff, remember, we of the Jungle, you of the City. The same substance composes us— the tree overhead, the stone beneath us, the bird, the beast, the star— we are all one, all moving to the same end. Remember that when you no longer remember me, my child.”

So, strict mysterious book-Mary Poppins or sweet singing film-Mary Poppins? I leave it to you to decide! But now I cannot get A Spoonful of Sugar and Chim Chim Cher-ee out of my head.



 I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge – A Classic Children’s Book




Mary Poppins, 1934
Mary Poppins Comes Back, 1935
I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, 1941
Aunt Sass, 1941
Ah Wong, 1943
Mary Poppins Opens the Door, 1943
Johnny Delaney,  1944
Mary Poppins in the Park, London: Peter Davies, 1952
Gingerbread Shop, 1952
Mr. Wigg’s Birthday Party, 1952
The Magic Compass, 1953
Mary Poppins From A to Z, 1963
The Fox at the Manger, 1963
Friend Monkey,  1972
Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, 1975
Two Pairs of Shoes, 1980
Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane, 1982
Mary Poppins and the House Next Door, 1988.

Stories from Mary Poppins, 1952

Moscow Excursion, 1934
George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, 1973
About the Sleeping Beauty,  1975