REVIEW: 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott

I must say, the second time around, I was much more involved.  Lots of spoilers here, so look out!

Maybe it's because Mother's Day commercials are popping up more and more frequently, but I want to start by saying the copy of Little Women I read was given to me by my mother.  I cherished reading it even more now that we've got a better relationship than we did when I was a teenager.  My mom is not exactly comparable to Marmee (because she's a MODERN WOMAN!), but she is pretty freakin' great, and only now that I'm grown up can I see that clearly.  *tear* (I know, sorry for the sappiness.)

In all sincerity, reading this book again was like looking back on my relationship with my mom.  Now that I'm an adult, and I've gone through my own transformation, I can definitely appreciate the book that much more.  I'll still say Part I was my favorite: the girls' innocent friendship with Laurie, and the vastness of their imaginations, kept a sweet smile on my face the whole way through.  I didn't feel nostalgia, but again, there was appreciation there for the naivete of childhood dreams and growing life experiences.  I never noticed before all the morals embedded into each chapter: I value more the morals in Part I, because they are the lessons we must learn to thrive as good human beings.  In Part II, the lessons become more targeted -- they are the lessons 19th century America encouraged its women to learn.  I'll admit that living in the 21st century caused the feminist in me to ruffle a little at some of the notions about being a "good woman."  The title even brings out the wryness in me.  But that's another story.

My affinities for the March sisters changed for me during this second, full reading, too.  When I first read the book, I was about eleven years old, and my favorite character was Jo.  At the time, I identified most with scrappy young girls who were pretty on the inside, whose best friends often became their lovers.  I think that's part of the reason I became so disenchanted with the second half of the book -- I wanted nothing more than for Jo and Laurie to be married, like a Disney movie.  As I read on this time, I became less and less enamored with her...her independence forced her into a lonely, spinster-like individual.  It bothered me that she completely gave up her writing, and that by marrying, she redeems herself as a woman.  Jo is an enigma, for she finds her calling as a caregiver (that shouldn't have surprised me, as we saw all the passion she put into looking after Beth), but to me, her generosity always seemed rather uncharacteristic, even sometimes self-serving (I imagined her saying, "What shall I do without...?").  Mostly I was disappointed.  I so wanted her to move to New York, have a writing career and a family, too.  And somehow, her Professor seemed all wrong...quite convenient, if you ask me.

This time around, I more identified with Amy.  I can reflect back on myself as a little girl, and realize that she is the one I was probably most like: a desire for popularity and beauty, a wish to be good and unselfish, and a drive to be educated and rich.  Amy is also the one I most admire in the book now, for she overcomes her childhood trivialities and grows into a charming, collected, rational woman.  She also gets to marry Laurie, and I do approve of the match there...although I believe that if Jo had only loved Laurie from the beginning, she would not have been so hard for me to identify with...although I don't believe that Laurie would have turned out as well as he did if that had happened.  What a pickle.

Beth I will never identify with.  Only the good die young, I guess.  Still trying to figure that one out.  Thoughts?

Oh, there is so much about this book I could ramble on and on about...but I think I'll leave the rest of the discussion for the comments.  I did thoroughly enjoy the story, and this copy is getting a very privileged place on my shelf.

How's a tagline for a closer?  "Little Women.  Better than the Vampire Diaries by a million."

 NEXT UP: The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, by J. Randy Taraborrelli.  I hope to have this hefty hardcover biography finished by June 1...Ms. Monroe's 84th birthday.


not undecided recently shared a list of the top ten books that have influenced her view of the world.  I thought I'd try my own hand at the exercise, although I tend to read more for pleasure than anything else.  I hope you'll try it, too.  Consequently, if you're looking for more intellectual answers, not undecided's post has many many links that will take you to some indirect recommendations.  This one was really hard for me, because I first had to ask myself: What is my view of the world?  Of course I still don't have a concrete answer.  I apologize, my answers start to get a little lax towards the end.  I'm pretty sleepy.  But here they are, in a possibly particular order:
  1. The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway.  This was one of the first books assigned during my Lost Generation course in college.  I'm not sure if the book so much as the class opened up my eyes to the expatriates and their carpe diem world view, but the book actually turned out to be the first vehicle for my feminist leanings.  I'll never forget the gender-neutral namesake of Brett Ashley, or her subtle, masculine mannerisms and actions.  The book also introduced me to Hemingway's more radical writing style -- using dialogue more often than narrative to tell a story.  It was cool to see his style adopted by the more modern writers I'd been used to reading.  There is even a third influence in this book for me.  It brought history much closer for me.  I felt like I could have been there myself while I read this book, in the salons on the Left Bank, having tea with Sylvia Beach and Gertrude Stein.  And with the war in Iraq being reported on more and more at the time, the sentiment of Hemingway's novel definitely transcended the decades, still making relevant points after all that time.
  2. The Vagina Monlogues, Ensler.  This play showed me womanhood. Period.  I'd never fully understood the beauty of women, the power of women, the multifaceted-ness of women, until I saw this performed, and then read it shortly afterward.  I can't even describe the cultural importance this play has for me.  It's so empowering, and changed my view to help me believe in myself even more.
  3. The Lost, Mendelsohn.  This book showed me a much darker side of history, and of human nature.  It also showed me the perseverance we are capable of as human beings, and taught me to appreciate the present.  It taught me that there is no such thing as no legacy.
  4. The Bible.  It's corny, it's overdone, it's cliche, but how could I not?  I grew up in a Catholic household, I went to church every Sunday until I was seventeen (by choice or by force), and the only non-Catholic school I've ever attended was my kindergarten.  This book has had an enormous impact on me, whether or not I was resisting it at any point in my life.  As a child, I viewed it as a place for answers...sometimes even magical ones, if I played the game correctly. (Did you ever do that, where you ask a burning question to God, flip open the Bible, and whatever verse your eyes land on, that's your answer?)  These stories pervaded my education every single year of my life.  I've drawn on them for symbolism in my own writing, I've rejected them as the absolute truth, I've accepted most as myth, I've relied upon them for morals, I've debated their immorality, I've let them act as a comfort, I've kept their more uncomfortable teachings at bay, I've proclaimed the work unfinished, and I've even found through them a pathway to education and even feminism.  How. Could. I. Not.
  5. Blonde, Oates.  My obsession with Marilyn Monroe began with this book.  How could I understand what I do about pop culture without learning a thing or two about this icon?  Although this book is a novel, I eventually learned from Marilyn (and Oates, who writes beautifully) the value of art, compassion, gentility, and identity in places even like the silver screen.  So much changed after Marilyn.  Maybe even because of her.  She's certainly made an impression on me.
  6. Dead Man Walking, Prejan; Forgiving the Dead Man Walking, Morris.  I'm combining these two books because they both taught me to love social justice, even though Prejan's book wasn't what I was expecting (lots of legal jargon), and Morris' account seemed to go on a bit too long.  However, both addressed the U.S. court system and its flaws, and made me a more firm proponent of civil and human rights.  It was hard to think of a failing system up until I'd read these books.
  7. The Sense of Structure, Gopen.  Where do I begin with this masterpiece?  Almost a textbook, this guide to language and writing is my literary bible.  After reading it, I had gained such a focused perspective on my own writing style.  It taught me how I could better hone my craft to make my readers understand the feelings behind my words.  There is so much good stuff in this book.  Who could have fathomed writing from the reader's perspective?
  8. A Light in the Attic, Silverstein.  This book introduced me to poetry, and kept the lighthearted side of me alive while I was growing up.  It showed me that poetry is not always dark and sinister and depressing, like it was rumored to be around my classrooms.  Poetry shaped a lot of who I am as a person, symbolic poetry especially.  I think it was good for me to keep the rhythm to my life, and to find it in my subject matter.
  9. The Bhagavad Gita. Another religious text that expanded my cultural view.  I loved how it connected to so many things I'd already been taught, and made me feel so close to the rest of humankind.  In studying the Gita, I ended up studying so many other wonderful philosophers.  It truly expanded my reach into so many other areas.
  10. The Outsiders, Hinton.  Classic themes of the search for identity, gallantry, and social divisiveness.  It's got it all.  "Nothing gold can stay."

A New Month, a New Look


Hope you like the new layout.  I'm pretty pleased with the new templates and advanced design capabilities from Blogger in Draft.

I chose the new loose leaf look before I even realized April is National Card and Letter Writing Month.  I was just thinking how appropriate it looks: If I'd been writing reviews of books back when I was a kid, I would have done it in a notebook or journal.  I've always been very comfortable writing on ruled paper.  But, since it is National Card and Letter Writing Month, I'll take the design in that direction tonight and make this post a letter to you, my lovely readers.

Little Women is going well; I have only 300 pages left.  I'm hoping to be finished with it by mid-April, but depending on my work schedule, it may take me until the end of the month.  I don't want to give too much away for my review, but so far it's been very pleasant reading.  I'm fast approaching the part where I quit reading the first time, though, and I'm hoping that won't happen to me again on the second go-around.  I suppose we'll see soon enough.

Right now I'm sort of organizing more post ideas.  The spring and summer are my favorite times of the year for reading, I think, as they probably are for most people.  Something about being outside in the sun with a good book is just so relaxing for me.  It gets me out of the bathroom, anyway. ;)  I like that I can fully appreciate the laziness of summer while educating myself and keeping my mind busy at the same time.  That is called two birds with one stone.  Consider me a proponent.

Anyway, hope your April has been going as well as mine so far.  I just wanted to check in with you and see how y'all are doing.  Come back soon!