20. ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ by Carlo Collodi

Remember when Pinocchio kills Jiminy Cricket with a large wooden mallet? How about the scene where he is swallowed by a sickly asthmatic shark? Of course, you must recall the classic scene where Pinocchio is hung and left for dead by two conniving thieves. If these revelations shock you, then you are not familiar with the original text of the classic children’s book by Italian author Carlo Collodi. Like many, I was raised on the Disney film version of the classic story of the mischievous wooden puppet. After reading the original book, I will never look at Pinocchio the same way again.

PINOCCHIO

Although Disney took several liberties with their version, the basic story is still the same. Pinocchio is carved from a living piece of wood by an elderly carpenter named Gepetto who wants a puppet that can perform and make him some money. Here is a quote from the scene where Gepetto decides on a name:

“What shall I call him?” he said to himself.  “I think I’ll call him PINOCCHIO. This name will make his fortune.  I knew a whole family of Pinocchi once–Pinocchio the father, Pinocchia the mother, and Pinocchi the children– and they were all lucky. The richest of them begged for his living.

There is just as much humor for grownups in Collodi’s text as there are memorable scenes for children. The author attempts to use satire and clever wordplay to convey some serious moral lessons, the strongest being the need for learning. It seems like Collodi placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of being educated. Gepetto sells his only coat in order to buy Pinocchio a spelling book only to have him sell it in order to go see a puppet show in the very next chapter. Pinocchio is constantly tempted away from getting an education by those around him. This culminates in his imprisonment in Funland, where he and his friends transform into jackasses due to their laziness.

Despite his adopted father’s best attempts. Pinocchio would rather have fun than go to school. In fact, the wooden puppet is actual quite annoying and a bit of a brat. He does manage to get into all types of adventures. He is nearly eaten by a fisherman, flies on the back of a pigeon, and gets swallowed by a shark. Pinocchio is actually killed in the middle of the story by two assassins who tried to connive him out of his gold. Imagine if the story had ended there? Well it nearly did, but Collodi was persuaded to continue the adventures.

The second half is just as action packed, but there are some changes. Pinocchio’s journey to becoming a real boy is chronicled here with the help of the blue-haired fairy. She instructs Pinocchio that he cannot achieve his dreams until he straightens up morally. There is some further heartbreak along the way, such as a truly sad scene with his friend Lampwick. Fortunately, we are rewarded with a happy ending for reading about the boy’s struggles.

I enjoyed reading this book because it reminds me of some of the more disturbing tales from the Brothers Grimm. Collodi was clearly inspired by these as several scenes in Pinocchio are very dark and twisted. I can see why Disney had to make the changes they did. There’s plenty of death, maiming, and immoral choices but at the heart of it you can’t help smile at the puppet’s striving to understand what it means to be human.

My version of the book includes a great essay on the history behind the text. It also has the original Italian text on one page with the English translation opposite. The footnotes didn’t add that much to my enjoyment as they mostly focused on why certain words were chosen. I’m selecting this book as my translated classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

“Because when children go from bad to good, they have the power of making things take on a bright new look inside within their families too.”

 

Have you read this book? Please comment below!

 

 

Books I’ll Probably Never Read Tag

This week, I thought I would try something completely different. I was inspired to write this by Claire at 50 A Year who was inspired by Booktuber Ariel Bissett. The topic is ‘Books I’ll probably never read’ tag which was originally created by littlespider9 (see what happens when bloggers read other bloggers). Let’s check out what’s on my not-so-hot list.

1) A really hyped book you’re not interested in reading

Although it hasn’t come out yet, I will probably not touch Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon thriller. Years ago, I read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I remember really liking it, and immediately trying Angels & Demons. I barely made it halfway before going into the abandoned pile. I have yet to touch any of the others by him. So while the upcoming Origin is getting a lot of hype, I don’t think it will be landing on my shelves in the near future.

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Sorry Tom….

2) A series you won’t start/won’t be finishing

In 2016 I read Alive by Scott Sigler. This was the first book of The Generations Trilogy, and I sadly will probably never read the rest. This is unfortunate as I really loved the opening chapters as I tried to figure out what was going on. Several people awaken trapped inside coffins with their memories of the last few years erased. The strangers must learn to work together in order to survive a world that is devoid of adults and littered with dust and bones. This book hooked me until I started to learn the truth about what was happening. Then it turned into a convoluted mess. Considering how big of a science fiction fan I am, this was a letdown. Perhaps the other two books offer some redemption. I will probably never know.

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You may be a bestselling author Sir, but I was disappointed

3) A classic that you’re just not interested in

One of my goals for this year is to read a Russian classic in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. I have some options, but one classic I will probably never read is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Besides sounding incredibly dull, I think it would take me most of an entire year to read it. Sorry Leo.

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Yeah wrong Leo, but makes a better GIF

4) Any genres you never read

I hate to answer this question because I usually find a good read in just about any genre. However, I’m not a huge fan of the whole spy thriller books. Sorry to all the fans of Ludlum, Cussler, and the late great Ian Fleming. These just don’t appeal to me.

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Sorry but spy thrillers just aren’t my bag baby.

5) A book on your shelves you’ll probably never actually read

I think the winner for this category has to go to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I bought it years ago along with some of her other works, which now sit behind the books I would rather read. Years ago, I read both Anthem and The Fountainhead. Although I actually liked both of these, I can’t seem to make myself read her magnum opus. I don’t even think it has to do with my views on her philosophy but more about how boring this book sounds to me. In the end, I’m going to have to trust the advice of Office Barbrady.

 

Are there any books that you’ll probably never read. Comment below to sound off!

The Many Genres of Louisa May Alcott

I just finished two novels by Louisa May Alcott. Surprisingly, neither one was Little Women. Both A Long Fatal Love Chase and The Inheritance were originally unpublished works until the 1990’s. However, these two novels by the creator of the March family could not be more different from each other. I had never realized just how many voices Alcott possessed, the first one written in the genre of thriller and the second one had many of the tropes of an Austen work. Although neither one would stand as her best work, this reading experience definitely helped further my appreciation of this author.

18. A Long Fatal Love Chase

Two years before the publication of Little Women, Alcott wrote this tale of Gothic suspense in order to save herself from financial hardships. Upon completion, it was rejected by her publishers who deemed it “too sensational.” It remained unpublished until 1995 when it became a posthumous bestseller. While reading this novel, I couldn’t help but think that Alcott would be penning those insane suspense thrillers you see on Lifetime. Chase often feels like one of those, albeit with much less sex. Compared to today’s suspense thrillers, this one is actually fairly tame. After finishing this book, I realized that I had quite a bit of fun reading it and couldn’t stop turning the pages until I reached the end.

LFLC

Here is the plot. Rosamond Vivian is a young adult woman stuck living with her cranky grandfather on a remote island off the coast of England. She hates the boredom of it all and dreams of a life of adventure. Her desperation is evident as she states:

“I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.”

Right on cue, a handsome older stranger named Philip Tempest enters her life, and Rosamond is quickly seduced with his promises of love and excitement. The two lovebirds are hastily married and run away together on Philip’s yacht. After settling down in a countryside town in Nice, the young woman feels that all her dreams have come true. Then, Rosamond learns that Philip has a dark secret and may not be so nice a guy after all. As it turns out, their marriage is built on nothing but lies and deceit. After learning the shocking truth, the young woman makes her escape. Philip loves Rosamond in his own twisted way and is not planning to just let her go. Thus, a great chase begins across Europe where Rosamond takes up many different careers and alias to escape her murderous bastard of a husband.

Despite my initial dislike and my eye rolling with the initial chapters, I became quite hooked on this insane love story. Alcott was smart enough to end each chapter on a little cliffhanger, so of course I had to read the next one to see what would happen next. This is a book that is firmly embedded in the tradition of Gothic love stories and suspense thrillers. Alcott does turn this story into something beautiful with its interesting European locations as Rosamond finds herself in one desperate situation after the next with Philip and his criminal servant Baptiste lurking around every corner. Just when you think the heroine has escaped, here comes the bad guy. Talk about not taking no for an answer!

Philip Tempest is a very unlikable character. I often found myself becoming annoyed at how he continued to plague poor Rosamond. As I thought about this story more, I realized that Alcott created a perfect allegory for the abusive relationship. Having known several people in these types of relationships, I understand the difficulty of every truly being free from your abuser. Sadly, I’ve seen several victims continue to go back to their tormentor again and again. Some of them never escape. I recognized this while reading as Rosamond struggles throughout the novel to be free of Philip once and for all. Although she demonstrates both bravery and tenacity, I would often grit my teeth as she would sometimes consider giving in to him. Unfortunately, this is true to life. Alcott manages to balance the darkness of human nature with some truly beautiful writing. Considering the increase in literature relating to abusive relationships, it appears as though Alcott was ahead of her time.

One flaw I found in the book is the lack of strong character development. It can be argued that Alcott demonstrated a strong female lead with the character of Rosamond, but the other characters often fell flat for me. I think the trick is to remember that this was written as a sensational piece of literature, so it’s more about enjoying the ride rather than exploring deeply introspective characters.

With the title being A Long Fatal Love Chase, you can form suspicions regarding how this journey will end. I was actually surprised by the ending and wonder if this was one of the reasons for its rejection. Today’s suspense thrillers wouldn’t have ended the way Alcott’s book did. Love it or hate it, I actually found it quite brave as perhaps it summed up the theme on toxic relationships to which I discussed a moment ago. Let’s move on to a work that isn’t quite as dark.

“He was the first, the only love her life, and in a nature like hers such passions take deep root and die-hard.”

 

19. The Inheritance 

Although I read this one next, The Inheritance was actually written first. In fact, Alcott penned this Victorian sensation novel when she was only 17 years old. Despite not being the best writing ever, I have to remember that I couldn’t have penned anything like this at such a young age. As I mentioned before, Inheritance often reminded my of Jane Austen. There’s romance, a failed attempt by one of the characters at romance, and quite a few comedy of errors. Naturally, everything comes together nicely at the end which would not necessarily be true to life. But hey, that’s one of the reasons I enjoy Austen so I’m fine with it.

INHERITANCE

This story is about Edith Adelon, a poor orphan girl who was taken in years ago by the wealthy Hamilton family. Although the father has long passed away, Edith has served as teacher and companion to the daughter Amy who lives in the home with her brother Arthur, their mother, and cousin Ida. The children are all adults now, and Edith has become quite close to both Amy and Arthur. Edith is loved by everyone because of her charm, virtue, and beauty. However, all is not wonderful as Ida’s jealousy fuels her determination to undo Edith by any means necessary. Edith has a secret of her own as a long lost letter reveals a shocking birthright as well as the inheritance of the books’ title.

Inheritance falls in the vein of the sentimental novel, a work which tends to evoke strong emotions of love and sentiment. I got very tired continuing to read lines about how Edith is “poor” but “virtuous.” We are reminded every few pages about how “good” Edith is despite being “poor.” It got a tad annoying. Don’t expect a lot of deep characterization here, from any of the characters. Even Ida as the villain didn’t really have much in the way of depth. A few dramatic events occur, but they are fairly minor to a work like Alcott’s later Chase. We get our happy ending, teaching us that goodness and virtue triumph over darkness and evil. Then again, these guys never had to deal with Philip Tempest!

This year I’m participating in Back to the Classics challenge. I liked how both of these books showed two very different sides to romance. Chase is a dark twisted tale of love gone wrong, while Inheritance is a Victorian fairy tale story. So I’m placing this review as my entry for the classic romance, representing both its good and bad sides.

“A long night and a happy day had passed. All had been told…”

 

Have you read either of these books? Please comment below.

 

 

 

Lesser Known Works from Classic Authors

Recently I finished two novels from Louisa May Alcott. Believe it or not, the author of Little Women penned several Gothic thrillers before becoming a literary sensation. I’m looking forward to writing my reviews of both The Long Fatal Love Chase and The Inheritance. For now, here are some other lesser known works from the classic authors you know and love.

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Everyone has read Lolita (except for me). My one journey into the mind of this great Russian author is a surreal ride that echoes Kafka. This tale about a man sentenced to die for a crime he doesn’t understand is filled with twists and metaphors on every page. I have it on my list for a reread because quite frankly I was unprepared the first time. The prose is typical of Nabokov who possessed a genius for beautiful lyrics that you practically need a doctorate to fully grasp. He was clearly an inspiration to one of my heroes, Haruki Murakami, and the art of magical realism.

Sandition by Jane Austen and “Another Lady”

Think you’ve read the entire Austen canon. Sandition was the novel she was working on which she unfortunately was taken from us. Although only a handful of chapters were completed, several authors have decided to finish these stories. This particular version finished by an anonymous author holds a special place in my heart. Set in a coastal town attempting to be the next vacation destination, I found it quite enjoyable while on one of my recent beach vacations. The collaborator manages to capture Austen’s voice and developed several humorous characters. If you are going to read Sandition, I must insist you only do it while relaxing on the beach. The sounds and smells of the water only enhance the experience. I have in my collection another “completed” Austen work called The Watsons. I’m hoping to give it a read sometime in the near future.

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Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Every serious reader has the same goal and that is to read more Dickens. Sadly, I have not read very many works by the man behind Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. One of his later works, Hard Times, is one of my favorites. Dickens manages to tell a great story about the conflict between being practical and being a dreamer set in an old coal mining town. Populated with several memorable characters, Dickens tackles themes ahead of his time, such as divorce and spousal abuse. I also recommend Hard Times if you are new to Dickens, as this is one of his shorter novels.

Chance by Joseph Conrad

Conrad is one of my favorite writers because he truly possessed the mind of a psychologist. Although he is best known for his works Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, I’ve always liked this later work that marks the first time Conrad made a female the lead of the story. Ironically, Chance is the novel that made Conrad money and yet is one of his most criticized. Together with Darkness and Jim, this books forms a loose trilogy and the final chapter for Conrad’s recurring character/narrator Charlie Marlow.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is known for her controversial short story “The Lottery” as well as the creepy The Haunting of Hill House. Castle ranks among my favorite books due both its supernatural themes and its deeper introspection into small town persecutions. I felt like the book is solidly embedded in the tradition of Gothic fantasy, without the more boring elements that often occur. Another Jackson book I’m dying to read is Hangsaman, one of her earlier and most unsettling works.

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

I was determined to read more from John Steinbeck after loving his incredible classic Of Mice and Men. If there are two things that Steinbeck does incredibly well, it’s his great depiction of American landscape and an intense understanding of human emotions. Divided into four interlocked stories, The Red Pony is a work that can be enjoyed for each individual work while greatly appreciated as the sum of its parts. I’m amazed at how a writer can convey so much meaning in such a short work of under 100 pages!

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The Last Man by Mary Shelley

Shelley’s beloved classic Frankenstein is forever embedded into our culture. However, this science fiction novel was rejected upon its first release due to Shelley being ahead of her time. A devastating plague has wiped out the world with the exception of one final human determined to chronicle the events of this apocalypse. This one is a must read from one the pioneers of the genre.

From the Dust Remembered by Ray Bradbury

Sure, everyone’s read Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I have a strong affection for this little “novel” that is actually more of a collection of shorts brought together under one theme. This is a story of a boy who lives in a family of monsters. Everybody but him possesses a superhuman ability. Bradbury will always be one of my favorites because he is a dreamer who was able to blend the fantastic with ordinary human emotion.

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Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’ve been reading lots of short stories lately, and I was fortunate to find this great collection written throughout the life of a truly legendary author. Known more for his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez penned many short stories that are nothing short of breath-taking. Another student in the art of magical realism, he manages to take the surreal and add a strong dose of humanity in the process.

Bartleby the Scriverner by Herman Melville

Until I read this, I thought Melville had only penned sea yarns.This story is narrated by a lawyer about a rather strange employee who worked for him for a very short time. Bartleby arrives one day in response to a job opening as a scrivener, someone who does writing and copying for legal offices. At first, Bartleby is quite helpful, but then becomes an enigma around the office. This little tale is full of both humor and tragedy. I highly recommend this one.

These are just a few of my favorites. I hope you discover a new favorite from my list or you select your next classic from it.

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Do you have a favorite “lesser known” classic or interested in reading a particular one? Comments are always welcome!

17. ‘The Bees’ by Laline Paull

I first learned about The Bees from reading a review from a fellow book blogger. The concept sounded really interesting so I was excited to acquire it during a recent book haul.

BEES

This is the first published novel from Laline Paull, and it was nominated for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. The protagonist Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, the lowest caste of bees in her hive. Flora quickly discovers that she is unlike the other lower bees. She is born slightly bigger and has abilities that one in her caste normally should not possess. Her curiosity is deemed as a sin in a world where she only needs to know three words. Accept. Obey. Serve. When dangers threaten the hive, Flora’s bravery and strength grant her rights leading to a multitude of adventures including access to the Queen. However, Flora is hiding a dark secret that not only threatens her life in the hive but leads her to question her entire worldview.

I love the detail that Paull used to render this fantasy world. After studying the biology and behavior of bees for several months, she was able to transform that knowledge into a rather detailed science fiction landscape. For example, several passages detail the ways bees communicate, such as through dance and use of their antennae. I feel like I learned a lot of great information behind the science of bees in addition to reading a great work of fiction. There is a very detailed caste system that drives the story, from the lowly sanitation workers to the holy priestesses to the Queen who is viewed as a Goddess. The males have their own special place on the hierarchy and are portrayed as spoiled and obnoxious members of royalty whose only true function to the hive is to service the Queen with offspring. Of course, the male drones are ritualistically slaughtered after their “services” are met, leading into one of the most disturbing scenes in the book!

Flora was an interesting character that constantly questioned the rulings of the hive. Normally, I don’t like the whole “chosen one” plot device in science fiction. I didn’t mind it here though due to how Flora possessed a certain naivety about her being special.

The story itself is quite riveting with a vast multitude of threats endangering the hive. Wasps, spiders, mice, and even human beings are described in frightening detail. It is a testament to Paull’s superb writing that she has transformed a simple beehive into an epic fantasy world that is filled with suspense around every corner. It was refreshing to read a novel in the dystopian vein that is told in a completely different way.

“Then kindly recall that variation is not the same as deformity.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!