Book Review: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White


Author: E.B. White
Title: Charlotte’s Web
Narrator: E.B. White
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group [Originally published, 1952]
Other Books Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Charlotte’s Web is a book I loved as a child and still love revisiting it as an adult.  And it’s quite the weeper! It’s a simple barnyard fable of a piglet who is the runt of the litter saved by a girl named Fern and named Wilbur.  As Wilbur grows and thrives he is faced with the reality that he will be butchered for pork. His life is saved by his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte who weaves words like “Some Pig” and “Terrific” into her webs. Wilbur grows to become a celebrity pig which saves him from the butchering block.

The natural response to this story is that Wilbur actually does nothing and it is Charlotte who should be recognized as a remarkable spider.  The farmer’s wife, Mrs. Zuckerman, says as much in the story. What I never noticed about this story as a child is how it is a social satire of how gullible humans are to the messages of advertising. But it’s also a story of friendship and how Charlotte dedicates her naturally short life to preventing the unnatural end of Wilbur’s life.  As a result, Charlotte’s legacy is ensured with Wilbur telling her story to generations of her descendants.

The book also features Templeton, a funny rat, who I loved as a child and who still cracks me up now.  Charlotte’s Web is a well-regarded classic and I can’t help but throw my praise onto it’s heap of plaudits.  Have you read Charlotte’s Web, and if you have what are your thoughts?

Favorite Passages:

“…A miracle has happened and a sign has occurred here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Zuckerman, “it seems to me that you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.

Final Lines: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Recommended books:

  • The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Rating: *****

Book Review: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison


Author: Toni Morrison
Title: The Bluest Eye
Narrator: Toni Morrison
Publication Info: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2007 [originally published in 1970]
Summary/Review:

I first encountered Toni Morrison in college where I read her novels for three or four different courses (including a senior seminar focusing entirely on Zora Neal Hurston, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison) and she quickly became one of my of favorite authors.  I first read The Bluest Eye in the summertime, not for a course, and found it a most emotionally devastating novel.  I’m not alone if feeling strong emotions about The Bluest Eye.  A friend in college said after she read the description of Pecola’s rape, told sympathetically from her father’s point of view,  that she threw the book across the room.

Pecola is young Black girl in Lorain, Ohio in 1941 from a poor and unstable family.  Her father Cholly Breedlove is an alcoholic while her mother Pauline is distant and more invested in the cleanliness and order of the rich white family where she works as a housekeeper than her own family.  Pecola is dark-skinned and even among the African American community she is considered “ugly” and is mocked and shunned.  Pecola in turn idealizes whiteness and dreams of getting blue eyes.

When we first meet Pecola she is staying with a foster family because Cholly burned their house down.  The MacTeer family, working class but stable, offer a contrast the Breedloves. They have two daughters around the same age as Pecola, Claudia and Freida.  The youngest of the girls, Claudia, is a narrator for parts of the novel (alternating with a third-person omniscient narrator) and offers a child’s perspective on many unsettling incidents.  Claudia is also the only person to show any compassion to Pecola.

The Bluest Eye is not an easy book to read, although it is an important book because it deals with real problems. The cruelty of people and the deep scars of racism that lead to internalized hatred are too prevalent to ignore.  The audiobook is especially powerful read by Toni Morrison herself.  She makes the excerpts from Dick & Jane stories at the start of each chapter sound chilling.

Favorite Passages:

“So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die.”

Rating: ****

Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


Author: Louisa May Alcott
TitleLittle Women
Narrator: C. M. Hebert
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010) [Originally published in 1868 and 1869]
Summary/Review:

I want to see Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of Little Women, but despite living most of my life in New England, and the past 22 years in Massachusetts, I’ve failed to read this book. So I’m filling in that gap in my cultural experience.

As is often the case with classic novels, I find it hard to write a review that says anything that hasn’t been said before.  But I did enjoy this book, which could be old-fashioned at times, but startlingly progressive for its era and still relevant in many ways.

The novel is the coming of age story for the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – living in a fictionalized version of Concord, Massachusetts in the 1860s.  When the story begins, their father is away from home, serving as a pastor in the Civil War, and even when he returns he is a benevolent background characters.  As the title clearly states, this is a women’s story, which only seems fair since many novels set in time of war exclude women entirely.  The only prominent male character throughout the novel is the boy next door, Laurie, who becomes a close friend of the March sisters.

Meg is the oldest, who takes a lot of responsibility for raising her younger sisters and maintaining the household. She’s married in the second part of the book and has some very relatable problems dealing with toddlers who don’t want to go to bed. Jo is the second daughter, who struggles with the limitations placed on girls and women of the time, and expectations to marry.  She loves literature and drama, and becomes a writer over the course of the novel.  Not surprisingly, she is the character who is most similar to Alcott herself.  Beth is sweet and shy, and something of the family’s conscience.  She has a very close relationship with Jo.  Beth contracts scarlet fever early in the novel and remains very sickly.  The youngest, Amy, is vain and materialistic as the story begins, but matures considerable over the course of the novel.  She becomes a talented artist.

I shan’t summarize further, but should you be like me and not have read it yet, I suggest you give it a try.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain


Author: Mark Twain
TitleThe Prince and the Pauper
Narrator: Kenneth Jay
Publication Info:  Naxos AudioBooks , 2001
Summary/Review:

I remember enjoying this book as a child (although I can’t remember what age) and since my son is interested in Mark Twain, we listened to the audiobook on a recent road trip.  It was a little bit more complicated than I remembered, and frankly we both had trouble following parts of the story, but perhaps that is a challenge of audiobooks compared with print.  The basic story is well-known in which the poor and abused Tom Canty meets Prince Edward and discovering they resemble one another, swap clothing.  Through a comedy of errors, they are separated and end up with Tom unwillingly becoming king and the prince having to live life at the very bottom of society.  All works out in the end, and Twain is probably too kind on Edward VI’s actual legacy as king, but the book delves into some of the gritty realities of impoverished masses and the court intrigues of the elites.

Rating: ****