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Little Women, directed by Greta Gurwig

The latest version of Little Women hit the big screen on Christmas Day 2019. I’d read the book most recently over a decade ago, and watched several other film versions. How does this one rate?

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This edition is not only based on the Louisa May Alcott’s novel about the March family, but also on Alcott’s journals; therefore there are a few interesting additions.

Stylistically, the movie has lush deep tones in indoor frames much like the period paintings Gurwig studied. The outdoor scenes are satisfying with period details as well as fresh and delightfully lingering which accounts for the length at 2 hours 15 minutes.

The movie is set in Orchard House and surrounding area, the actual Alcott home (now museum) in Concord, Massachusetts, across the lane from Laurie’s grand mansion, presided over by his grandfather, (Chris Cooper). Father is off to the Civil War, and Marmie (played by Laura Dern) sympathizes with the poor of the town and leads her girls to give away their sparse foodstuffs and care for the sick. Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan), is wilder in this version than the others, least likely to succumb to matrimony; her sisters not so much. There are subtle religious overtones as the family prays true to the original book, but more stark are the overt feminist comments not present in the original novel or the previous films, apparently borrowed from a speech in Alcott’s novel Rose in Bloom and elsewhere in Alcott’s later writings, perhaps indicative of Alcott’s growing outspokenness. While women’s social standing is a predicament of the time, the “little women” being so self-aware is doubtful. It smacks of didacticism, aimed at educating the young who may know nothing of women’s former plight and the true work of feminism to win suffrage, property, and parentage rights. Again, not true to the novel, but in retrospect it is a truthful addition in light of Alcott’s values.

The character of Laurie (Chalamet) is rendered in a believable light, immature and a brother-match to Jo, while more suitable as husband for the younger more adoring Amy. His growing love for Jo and her refusal is put forth as the main story-line, but kudos to the director, Gurwig, for also giving us glimpses of Meg’s (Watson) romance with Laurie’s tutor John Brooke (Norton), poignant scenes during Beth’s (Scanlen) illness, and more of Amy (Pugh) in Paris with Aunt March played spectacularly by none other than Meryl Streep. Unfortunately, the role of Marmie March (Dern) was underwhelming, as was that of Father (Odenkirk). However, the comic banter and rich poetic dialogue provides hints of Thoreau’s Walden and other transcendental writers and thinkers of the time. In fact, I quite expected actual appearances by the Alcott’s neighbours, but they appeared only in the script.

Jo’s friendship and ensuing romance with Friedrich (Louis Garrel) is a good fit as he is closer in age to Jo than the version with Wynona Rider, therefore more believable, somewhat reminiscent of the updating of Pride and Prejudice with younger protagonists. More of their relationship would have been interesting. However, the final scene, as sweet as it is, does not at all seem true to the story as it doesn’t lead well into the following novel Jo’s Boys where Friedrich and Jo have a school for boys. Instead, it adhere’s to the comedic form for a gathering of community.

Another stylistic update was the switching back and forth repeatedly in time between the girls’ childhood and their adult lives, unlike the chronological treatment in the Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version with Wynona Rider and Susan Sarandon. I personally loved this treatment, but my movie-friend who hadn’t read the book or viewed previous versions was confused.

I recommend reading Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women first then watching the 1994 Armstrong version before seeing this one in order to truly appreciate the vision which Gurwig brought to screen.

 

Recommended for all ages.

 

A Secret Envy of the Unsaved, Rebecca Fredrickson

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Rebecca Frederickson’s poetry in Secret Envy of the Unsaved is raw and poignant, beautiful and tragic. As another reviewer (from Amazon) said, she writes about the “lives and personalities of residents of a small, close-knit northern community in BC. It’s a book that begs to be read in one sitting but left handy for re -reading.”

Her writing adds depth to common experiences:

“… the unsaved,

who could say anything

without their hearts pounding

wild and chaotic inside them.”

 

Fredrickson’s work is unpretentious and fresh, despite being published in 2002.

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A Canadian Author

Recommended for 14+

DB

Out on the Drink, by Bill Bunn

 

out on the drink

This is Bill Bunn’s latest YA novel. At times, the best way to get an idea about a book is to compare it to others which are better known. In this case, Out on the Drink reminds me of Hatchett, by Gary Paulsen. Both are survival tales with engrossing minute details of a marooned boy trying to stay alive.

Both are well written, although I would say that Hatchett has a choppier feel as it comes from the narration of a less-literate teen-aged boy; Bunn’s protagonist, although similar in age, narrates at a slightly higher literacy level. As a result, there is better narrative flow.

Another novel that comes to mind when reading this novel is The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson; both are “problem” novels. In Hopkin’s novel, the protagonist is in foster care; in Bunn’s novel, Sean is a candidate for foster care due to his family problems. Here is the blurb about Out on the Drink from the Chapter’s site:

Sean Bulger is a 16-year-old alcoholic from Newfoundland. His life revolves around avoiding his abusive stepfather and sneaking booze wherever and whenever he can. One of his party crashes goes wrong when a group of fellow teens dare him to check out a condemned Russian cruise ship.

Stone drunk and obsessed with the promise of more alcohol, Sean scrambles aboard the ship, and  blacks out when the boat is towed from harbour–and soon he’s adrift in a ruined ship, looking for fresh water, food, navigational tools, or anything that will help him survive.

This book is based on an actual ship off the east coast of Canada.

Bill Bunn is one of those writers that someone will discover and then have to read all their back novels. His work is consistently good and smacks of all that is right and wrong with boyhood, without getting into the clumsy “coming of age” stuff.

Whenever possible, Canadian schools should look to replace assigned novels with excellent novels written by Canadian authors, whether they are published in Canada or elsewhere.

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A Canadian Author

YA age 11+

Happy Reading!

DB

Alice Hoffman, The World That We Knew

I often write about “old” or at least “older” books, but I just read one that is still fairly hot off the press. It’s Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew, released in 2019.

I chose this book because I like some historical and period fiction, as well as war-time stories. The appeal of war-time stories is that this is recent history and should be studied even though it is particularly chilling. The lows are dramatic, gut-wrenching, and at times horrific; the highs may be the simple beauty of something in nature or as triumphant as escaping arrest.

From the front sleeve:

In Berlin in 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive.                                  At the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime …

I didn’t look any further, so after I brought the book home and began to read to discover  supernatural/fantastical elements, I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t want to give it away, but a few of the characters see the Angel of Death, other angels, demons, and someone creates a golem. It’s all organic to the story and the story remains anchored in real life war-time struggles, but the elements add tension and surprise.

It’s a well-told story which kept my interest throughout, and the denouement was particularly bittersweet and yet satisfying.

Recommended for 14+.

Happy reading!

DB

Our Familiar Hunger, by Laisha Rosnau

A couple of summers ago, I was able to attend a poetry writing workshop with UBC Okanagan professor Laisha Rosnau, through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. She is winner of the

Dorothy Livesay Award, and the BC Book Prize for Poetry.

We ate lunch, she did a short Q&A, and then we got down to it… pen on paper. She provided several writing prompts. Quite a group was squeezed around the tables at the pub, some struggling to see in the din. After scribbling for a while, we took turns reading short bits aloud. Afterwards, we broke into smaller groups to write and read more.

It was a satisfying afternoon. And best of all, I left with a copy of Laisha’s book, Our Familiar Hunger. (Nightwood Editions, 2018, Duncan, B.C.). I did not know it at the time, but the volume has proved to be stark, beautiful, and important.

The work traces through ads, farm dirt, blood, abuse, and the chronology of the migration of Ukrainian women to Canada, some legally, and some as trafficked slaves to service oil workers and farmers. Rosnau uses found texts, many sources, her own poetry previously published on the topic, and she mentions works which inspired her own. Having read volumes of poetry without a unifying theme, I can see why this one is an award winner. The theme unifies the work and creates a strong statement about a people.

Noise and light explode

and we think it’s the surging

between us, what we hold

under heavy skirts, but

it’s another spray of gunshot,

another soldier marching.

The history of wars and suffering bleeds through, as do softer moments:

We sleep in our own skin

and lie so close together

I can see how there is something

in the blue of your eyes,

as wide as sky pressed against

crops of wheat before lack

Often, people don’t like poetry because it seems obscure and impenetrable. Not this. Anyone can read, understand, and gain from this work.

Happy Reading.

DB

A Canadian Author

Writers’ Guild of Alberta Regional Facilitator

 

Dorothy is Regional Facilitator for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Check The Writers Guild of Alberta website for the latest events. These are currently mainly webinars as all group events are on hold.

 

The following workshops are cancelled or changed to webinars.

Workshops available include the following, as well as Write Nights, every Tuesday evening at the Wood Buffalo Regional Library, 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

C.S. Lewis is the author of the popular Narnia series and other works. My children enjoyed listening to the series as books which I read aloud, as well as audio books during trips.

Additionally, I have read Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, his autobiography Surprised By Joy, and my recent favourite, his Till We Have Faces; A Myth Retold, a reimagining of the Cupid and Psyche story.

Having been initiated into the world of Lewis, I wondered about this previous Oxford Don and long-time bachelor. The novel, Becoming Mrs. Lewisis a worthwhile read on several accounts: first, it has a great bibliography at the end elevating the novel to more of a scholarly investigation; and second, it shows a side of Lewis which is not usually explored by his adoring fans.

The bibliography provides many fun rabbit-trails for the curious to explore, such as books by Davidman’s son, other books by and about Lewis, and books by and about Davidman and Tolkien, Lewis’s friend. As for the enlightening bits, Callahan draws upon letters exchanged between Davidman and Lewis, love sonnets penned by Davidman, as well as other writings and lectures of Lewis. For instance, some suspect that he had an intimate relationship with Mrs. Moore before his conversion; this books tries to paint a realistic picture of the situation and Lewis’s opinion of Mrs. Moore which is not altogether benevolent.

The novel’s dialogue seems stilted at times, but I assume it is because the author did her best to piece together snippets from letters and other discourse. Of interest to me is also how Lewis lived out his Romantic beliefs (sehnsucht) of which he instills in his children’s literature (the music of Elfland– filled with longing for something more), while focused on moral character. The book includes mentions of his literary influences of nordic mythology and George MacDonald and others, as well as his wonderings about faith. I enjoyed the tidbit of how he preferred to attend an early service without the loud music (of the organ) and sit behind a pillar at chapel so the cleric could not see his face in case he disagreed with something in the sermon. The book, much to the publisher’s credit, does not gloss over questioning of faith, his quirks, nor the passion involved in this love story.

The book is a quick and enjoyable read.

Recommended for ages 14+

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Happy Reading!

DB

Tolkien the Artist

In a previous post on J.R.R. Tolkien, I wondered what more could be said about the great storyteller. Well, as it turns out, there is more to learn.

I recently listened to a Tolkien at Oxford podcast entitled, The Hobbit at the Bodleian: World Book Day. It was interesting to hear about how Tolkien intended The Hobbit to be an illustrated novel, but the cost to include his watercolours was prohibitive after the war. The podcast features Judith Priestman, curator of the Bodleian library on World Book Day, 2010, on which day the original artwork was displayed.

Apparently, his watercolour paintings which he produced on plain (inexpensive) paper with his children’s low-quality paints cannot bear to be viewed normally in light at the Bodleian, and so they are stored in the dark.

Good news! There is a stunning volume available, published in 2018, with paintings, maps, and other author creations. This bookseller has several inside page views where you can see his artwork. It is surprising that Tolkien was dismissive of his artistic talent, as his work is quite vivid and enjoyable to view: Tolkien Maker of Middle-Earth.

tolkien maker of middle-earth

 

Enjoy!

DB

Two So Small

by Hazel Hutchins

About a decade ago, I participated in a children’s book workshop in Canmore with Canadian author Hazel Hutchins.

I purchased one of her books, Two So Small, which she’d used as one of the examples in the workshop. The book has the flavour of a Folk Tale with surprises sprinkled throughout as well as sweet ending.

Here is the description from an online bookstore:

A gentle story about a brave little boy and his goat who, after many wrong turns, meet a baby giant in need of their help. In order to fully capture the size of the giants, Two So Small features an extra-large fold-out picture at the story’s end.

It became one of those books which I read over and over again to my young child. And it is one of the books which will remain on my bookshelf to read with grandchildren.

A Canadian Author

Happy Reading!

DB

Autumn Kids’ Book Tour

Dorothy would love to visit your school or organization to talk about creating a picture book!

Other options are creative writing guided practice and inspirational talks to youth.

There is funding available through the Writer’s Union of Canada to help your organization fund an author visit!

Contact Dorothy by email (editor.bentley@gmail.com) or through her publisher, Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

 

Autumn Kids’ Book Tour*

Come and say hello and have your copy of

 Summer North Coming  read & signed by the author!

Calgary postponed

Banff postponed

Lethbridge Saturday November 9th, Chapters, 1:00 pm

Fort McMurray Saturday November 23rd, Coles-Indigo, 12:00 pm

* cancelled if roads are closed due to a snow storm