Cold Comfort Farm

by Stella Gibbons
First sentence: “The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.”
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Content: It’s a bit early-20th-century with the language and the pacing. And there’s some illusions to sex. But, really, if you think you can manage, go for it. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

This is one of those classic books that somehow I missed growing up. I don’t know why. I kind of knew it existed: knew there was a movie, knew that it was a book… but not enough to really know anything about it. So I went into this one blind, and the edition I got (pictured above) didn’t help me much, going in: it looks like it’ll be a bit of a silly book, with some weird characters.

And that’s pretty much accurate.

Flora is, as the first sentence indicates, unable to support herself, being one of those “educated” women (it is 1932, after all; I have no reason to believe this wasn’t meant to be contemporary). So, she decides, with her 100 pounds a year, to take advantage of hospitality of her relatives, writing them to see if they’ll house her. The most interesting letter she got was from Cold Comfort Farm, which said that they had once done her father a great wrong, and that they are not like “other folk”. Of course Flora finds this intriguing. And so, she’s off to Cold Comfort Farm to see what mysteries await her.

There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm, from the dawn of time (or at least since they came into possession of it), and because of the iron fist of Aunt Ada Doom, they are a weird bunch. The whole book is Flora sticking her nose into everyone else’s problems to fix them, thereby making Cold Comfort Farm a happier place.

And it’s a hilarious ride. (Maybe not laugh-out-loud funny, but definitely amusing.) I adored the characters: the rogue Seth, the grumpy Reuben, the over-religious Amos, the depressed Judith, the hippie (she’s ahead of her time) Elfine… there’s just so much to enjoy here. My favorite was Mr. Mybug, who was obsessed with sex, mostly because he was SO ridiculous. The only thing that I felt was left hanging was the Thing that Aunt Ada saw in the shed that made her SO crazy (I wanted to know, dangit!), but other than that, this was an absolute delight.

I’m so glad I finally read it. (Now to watch the movie!)

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Stella By Starlight

by Sharon M. Draper
First sentence: “Nine robed figures dressed all in white.”
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some pretty intense stuff going on in this book, by Draper never lets it get too dark. She knows her audience and (rightly) assumes they can handle anything that is thrown at them. Be prepared, however, for some discussion. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) at the bookstore.

It’s 1932, North Carolina. The whole country is in the throes of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt is running for office. For Stella and her family, this doesn’t really matter. They’re more concerned about making ends meet. And avoiding the local Klu Klux Klan.

And they’re doing a pretty good job until Stella’s dad, pastor, and a family friend decide to exercise their constitutional right and vote. Then, all hell breaks loose.

There’s actually a lot more going on than that: Draper knows her history, and paints a picture of what life was like for African Americans struggling to get ahead in the 1930s. The one-room school, with a teacher who handles all grades next to the white school where they get new books. The small houses and hand-me-over clothes. Having to enter in the back door of shops. Or, most tellingly, a white doctor who won’t come help Stella’s mother after she’d been bitten by a rattler.

And Stella is such an engaging character to go through all this with. She’s an observant, smart girl, but one who also struggles with writing in school. She’s trying to figure out her place in life, how to navigate the injustices of her situation, and still come out ahead. She’s got fantastic parents, and a supportive community. There’s so much that I found admirable about the way she deals with her situation. And so much to discuss (I know; I ended up talking to my family) when you’re done.

Audiobook: The Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown
Read by: Edward Herrmann
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Content: It’s a book about the 1930s, rowing, and Nazism. It’s appropriate for anyone who’s interested in reading about those things, and can handle a long-ish book. It’s in the History section of the bookstore.

In the 1930s, 8-man rowing was one of the most popular sports (who knew). And the west coast — the University of California and University of Washington — was the hot-spot of the sport. And in the years leading up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Washtington team became the best of the world.

This is the story of how the Washington boys became the Olympic gold medalists.

I think this is one of those books that I really needed to listen to rather than read. While I think it would have been interesting, listening to it made it riveting. I enjoyed the stories of Joe Ranz — who ended up in the number 7 seat in the Olympic boat — and the other boys, and how they came to be at Washington. I enjoyed the conflict that coach Al Ulbrickson had with the California coach. I didn’t enjoy the rehashing of 1930s Berlin, but I think that’s because I listened to In the Garden of the Beasts and this is basically re-hashing much of that territory. For someone who is unfamiliar with Hitler’s rise, it’s pertinent information.

But what I  really loved was the bits about how the sculls were made, about the effort it took to row a race. And the races themselves? They had me glued to my seat, hooked on every word.

It was a remarkable event, a remarkable story. And I’m so glad I know about it, now.