Slow-Read Sunday: The Secret Garden (to the END)

We’ve previously discussed The Secret Garden to Chapter VII; to Chapter XIV; to Chapter XVII and to Chapter XXII.

Today, we’ll finish discussing the novel.

1. Colin’s transformation.

The second half of the book, and in particular the last part of the book, is Colin’s story. Mary is by his side, but we are all witnesses to his transformation and it’s his future we hear discussed most often. Do you think that’s fair to Mary? Did you expect the novel to end the way it did? What of Mary’s future?

2. When people always get their way they become ____________.

Colin has been pampered his entire life. Mary can recognize this and the impact it’s had on him. p. 234. What are some of the dangers of getting everything you want?

3. Nature as a cathedral.

Around p.241 The Garden becomes something like a cathedral. The descriptive phrases used in this section have the children sitting cross-legged in “sort of a temple.” The characters sing hymns and chant until they can sway. p. 242. You probably noticed numerous other allusions to religion. What is the author suggesting here? What do you think the relationship between God, Nature, and Religion are in the novel?

4. Exercise.

What role does exercise play in Colin’s recovery? Does the mental transformation precede the physical? Are they tied together? p. 257.

5. The first paragraph of Chapter XXVII. p. 281.

The first paragraph of Chapter XXVII is a bit like the author’s closing argument or summation, isn’t it? It is a celebration of growth through knowledge and discovery. It is a celebration of the power of the mind. It is also the expression of the author’s desire that we learn more about how our minds work in the coming centuries. Do you think the author would be pleased to see the results of the past centuries’ accomplishments? Have we made progress in this area that matches Colin’s and Mary’s progress in the novel? If society as a whole hasn’t lived up to this transformation have there been individuals that have? What will another hundred years bring?

6. How are we like Colin and Mary, even as adults? What can we do to transform our own lives?

Thanks to Amarie for suggesting our June read. It was my first time to read the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Slow-Read Sunday has been an interesting experiment. I certainly find it enriching to participate in, but I always debate whether I’m using my time with the site in the most effective way. I’m engaged in some of that inner-debate now and I haven’t decided whether to keep going with Slow-Read Sunday. I have decided to take July to contemplate whether I’ll continue and, if so, whether the format will change. There will be no Slow-Read Sunday in July, but I’m sure something will hold its place until I decide its future. Thanks to each of that read and participated and I hope at least one of you has gotten something out it.

5 Authors to Read for Canada Day

This is an essay by Vanessa Santilli.

With Canada Day quickly approaching, it’s time to appreciate the best the Canadian literary world has to offer. From writing about real-life political secrets and communication theory to dystopian societies and fantastical quests, the works of these Canadian writers are as diverse as the people that inhabit this vast landscape. To get you ready for July 1, here are some of the best writers that the Canadian literary world has to offer.

1. Yann Martel

While you may not be familiar with this Canadian author, you’ve likely seen his novel, The Life of Pi, play out on the big screen. At the 85th Academy Awards, the film adaptation received four awards, including best director. Martel’s fantastical writing — The Life of Pi’s primary setting was on a boat with a tiger in the middle of the ocean — will entertain, inspire and make you question your notions of truth.

2. Peter C. Newman

A journalist and writer, Peter C. Newman is both an officer of the Order of Canada and served as a captain in the Royal Canadian Navy. His writing career is just as interesting, having penned numerous bestsellers looking at the top politicians of the day. One of his most significant was The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister, a tell-all biography of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The book caused quite the splash and resulted in lawsuits from both Mulroney and media baron Conrad Black.

3. Marshall McLuhan

A Canadian icon, Marshall McLuhan advanced thinking in the world of communication theory. He is famous for saying that the “medium is the message,” which means that the technology or method used to convey a message is more powerful than the message itself. Some of his books include The Medium is the Massage and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Having lived before the age of social media, McLuhan was ahead of his time in saying that “each technology creates a new environment.”

4. Margaret Atwood

The quintessential Canadian author, Margaret Atwood is a must-read. Beloved by Canadians, many of Atwood’s novels have been turned into plays, including The Penelopiad — a response to Homer’s The Odyssey. She’s won dozens of awards for her writing over the years, including the prestigious Governor General’s Award. To see what all the hype’s about, I’d suggest starting with A Handmaid’s Tale, which takes place in a totalitarian state that has taken over the United States of America.

5. Lucy Maud Montgomery

The internationally recognized classic Anne of Green Gables put Lucy Maud Montgomery on the map. The novel is about the spirited Anne, an orphan from Prince Edward Island, and the ups and downs she experiences as she acquires a family of her own. Many famous authors, including Margaret Atwood, have acknowledged their indebtedness to the works of Montgomery, who wrote 20 novels in total along with 500 short stories and poems. Simply put, it doesn’t get any more Canadian than this.

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Vanessa Santilli is a Toronto-based journalist and freelance writer. Visit her website at www.vanessasantilli.com or follow her on Twitter @V_Santilli. 

Photo: Some rights reserved by Loimere.

Slow-Read Sunday: The Secret Garden (to CH. XXII)

We’ve previously discussed The Secret Gardento Chapter VIIto Chapter XIV; and to Chapter XVII.

Today we’ll discuss The Secret Garden to Chapter XXII. Some of the most beautiful language in the novel appears in this chunk. At times, today, I’ll highlight some of that language by merely setting out the quote for reflection. I think some of that highlighted language answers the questions we’ve posed to this point in the novel.

1. What does Mary mean when she says what ails Colin is hysterics and temper?

Mary uses the word hysterics to describe Colin’s fits. Does she come up with that on her own or has she picked it up from someone?

2. “The boy is half insane with hysteria and self-indulgence.” p. 191

Dr. Craven comes to see Colin after he has his tantrum. His official diagnosis seems less concerned with medicine, more a mental assessment. Dr. Craven wants Colin to remember his illness and be mindful of its restrictions at all times. Colin would rather forget his illness and put it out of his mind completely. p. 194. What advice would you give Colin?

3. What is the source of Dickon’s magical powers?

Mary believes there’s a certain magic about Dickon. p. 207. If she’s right, where do the powers come from?

4. Mary introduces Colin to the garden.

Mary introduces Colin to the garden by walking him through and explaining how she first gained access. You can feel the excitement pouring off these pages. p. 213. By the time they enter the garden, Colin is convinced he will get well and”live forever and ever.” This language mirrors the way Dickon feels when he lies on the ground in the moor and breathes in the air. Have you ever felt that way? What were the circumstances? Can you recreate them at will?

5. “One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever.” p. 213.

6. Why do Mary, Dickon, and Colin all whisper in the garden?

Colin gets instructed “as to the law of whispers and low voices” before entering the garden. p. 217. Once in, he likes the “mysteriousness” of whispering. What do you make of the rule? There are other places where we must whisper at all times, like Churches and Libraries. Did either of them come to mind when you heard this rule?

7. “I’ve seen the spring now and I’m going to see the summer. I’m going to see everything grow here. I’m going to grow here myself.” p. 221.

Next time we’ll finish discussing the novel.

Slow-Read Sunday: The Secret Garden (to Chapter XVII)

Thus far, we’e discussed The Secret Garden to Chapter VII and then to Chapter XIV.

Today, we’ll carry on to Chapter XVII of The Secret Garden.

1. What is Magic? 

The idea of Magic with a capital “M” is raised at p. 139. What does Mary mean when she asks about Magic? Why do you think the author chooses to capitalize “Magic?”

2. Does the story start to turn into Colin’s story?

Mary’s always involved, but we start to learn more about Colin in this part of the book. Whose story is this? Is it a story about Mary? About Colin? About The Garden?

3. If you learn something about how to repair yourself you should teach others.

Mary finds that being in the garden works for her. She then decides it might help Colin. p. 141. Do we have an obligation, once we’ve learned something, to share it with others if it’ll help them, too?

4. Mind over matter?

Dickon talks about having Colin go out in the garden because there “he wouldn’t be watchin’ for lumps to grow on his back; he’d be watchin’ for buds to break on th’ rose-bushes, an’ he’d likely be healthier.” p. 162. There are two ideas at play here: (1) the idea that not thinking about being sick makes you less likely to be sick and (2) there are forces in nature that make us healthy. Is there any truth to these two ideas?

5. Misery loves company?

Mary has a perspective shift when she sees Colin acting ill-tempered. p. 167. Before, she had always wanted people around her to be miserable if she was miserable. Now, she sees Colin engaging in that behavior and thinks he’s wrong. What precipitated this perspective shift?

6. Is Colin jealous of Dickon?

Colin is mad at Dickon because he “keeps [Mary] playing in the dirt when he knows I am all by myself.” p. 168. Does that jealousy fuel bad or good behavior in Colin?

Next week, we’ll read on to Chapter XXII.

A Countdown of Bad Dads By the Books

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Sometimes it seems like evil moms (and step-moms) get all the glory, at least when it comes to literature. Which is crazy considering the number of bad dads that are integral to the plot in so many books. From garden-variety crooks to recovering alcoholics possessed by evil spirits, unpleasant father figures abound in all kinds of stories and not-so-fairy-tales. So this Father’s day, consider giving dad the benefit of the doubt.  Let go of any hard feelings about that time he grounded you for four months and focus on how much better he is than any of the father-figures listed below.

Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

While most of the negative press goes to Mrs. Bennet for being a ditzy mom obsessed with pairing off her daughters to the highest bidder, Mr. Bennet is passive-aggressive and rather pathetic at best as a parent. His lack of decisive action is just as damaging to his children as his wife’s poorly thought out actions and he is just as responsible for his daughters’ behavior as his wife. Except under extreme circumstances, like when Mrs. Bennet wants Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet rarely stands up for himself, or for his daughters, and even then, he waits until the situation has gotten out of hand. On top of everything else, Mr. Bennet very specifically fails to act in time in the case of his younger daughter Lydia, doing nothing about her inappropriate behavior until it’s too late.  Fortunately, Mr. Darcy steps in to save the day and everyone’s reputations.

Mr. Wormwood in Matilda by Roald Dahl

Swindling, lying and generally being a bad person, ahem, role model just aren’t enough for Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father in this children’s classic by Roald Dahl. He has to take his bad parenting a step further—gleefully boasting about his immoral behavior and expecting his children to admire and emulate his utter lack of scruples. But beyond the ruefully substandard moral example he makes for his kids, he’s a terrible parent, as evidenced by his sick need to punish his brilliant daughter for being smarter than him. Also, he rips pages out of her library books (the horror!). And while some readers (who?) may argue that Mr. Wormwood is noticeably kinder to Matilda’s brother, further analysis leads to the conclusion that he’s not doing his son any favors by encouraging him to be a lump in front of the television.

Pap Finn in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

When it comes to bad parenting, Huck’s dad in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes the cake. “Pap” as Huck knows him, is the town drunk and to make matters worse, is dead-set against his son improving himself, or acquiring an education. He frequently disappears, returning whenever he needs cash for more alcohol. To add insult to abandonment, after leaving Huck to fend for himself, Pap returns to take Huck out of a more comfortable  (if unbearably civilized) home with the Widow Douglas and then drags him  away from his friends to live in an isolated cabin in the woods. Unsurprisingly, instead of grief at his father’s passing, Huck feels relieved to be rid of the man.

Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

When people discuss Wuthering Heights, they tend to talk about doomed romance between selfish, star-crossed lovers, not parenting. But the fact of the matter is, Catherine’s beloved Heathcliff wasn’t just a cruel lover—he was also a terrible father. He was unkind and cruel to his sickly son, Linton, and refused to let him stay where he would be better off (with his uncle Edgar, Heathcliff’s “enemy”). Heathcliff  has no interest in the boy beyond using him to exact revenge on Edgar, the man who married Catherine, the love of Heathcliff’s life. Heathcliff’s need for revenge makes him a terrible father figure, not just to his own son, Linton, but also to Hareton, the orphaned son of Catherine’s brother Hindley. Despite Hareton’s resemblance to Catherine, Heathcliff teaches the child to swear and behave rudely as a sort of payback for his own mistreatment at the hands of Hindley.

Jack Torrance in The Shining by Stephen King

Think having a bad dad is tough? How about having a father that’s a recovering alcoholic and possessed by malicious spirits? Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining is hardly an exemplary father to begin with and when he succumbs to the evil energy of a haunted hotel, he’s absolutely murderous. When daddy tries to kill mommy and baby, it’s safe to say, he’s not going to win any awards for father of the year, whatever his excuses.  Spoiler alert! While in the end, Danny, his son, is able to reach and supposedly redeem him, Jack dies, leaving his kid  behind with some serious emotional baggage and a lifetime of bad dad dreams.

Humbert Humbert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Evil stepmothers get a lot of press. But what about Humbert Humbert in Lolita? Whatever your feelings are about the book and its unreliable narrator in general, Humbert Humbert spectacularly fails as a father-figure and is quite possibly the creepiest step-parent I’ve read about. Not only does he marry Lolita’s mother because of an altogether un-fatherly obsession with the preteen, after her mother dies, he uses his position as her legal guardian to take advantage of her. After unsuccessfully drugging Lolita in order to touch her while she’s out cold (eek), Humbert happily goes along with it when she initiates a sexual relationship. He then keeps this unnatural (not to mention illegal and immoral) relationship alive by bribing his young ward with material things and threatening her with foster care.

The father in The Kiss by  Kathryn Harrison

In this disturbing memoir author Kathryn Harrison describes the sexual relationship between herself and her estranged father, a respected pastor. Starkly and beautifully written, it is at times shocking, disgusting, and heartbreaking. Harrison’s father is terrifying in the control he wields over his college-aged daughter, and his disregard for his own offspring’s mental and emotional wellbeing, not to mention his attitude towards societal norms and traditional morals. The sheer gall of a man who would conduct an affair with his own daughter, and house her in a room off the kitchen in the house he shared with his wife and other children leaves the reader open-mouthed. Unlike Jack Torrance, this dad doesn’t even have the excuse of a demonic possession, and thus wins the award for worst literary father, hands down, no doubt about it.

Parting words about judging parents

In literature and in life, we’re sometimes harsh and unyielding when it comes to judging fathers. People are never perfect and most parents are under far too much pressure to come even close to the ideal parents featured in Disney movies and t.v. Sitcoms and comparing them to such archetypes of benevolence is unfair at best. At the other end of the father spectrum sit some of the deadbeats and psychopaths mentioned above. I for one am glad to have a dad who off to one side without falling off the edge and into either extreme—just far enough away from the ranks of Disney dads and far removed from the likes of Jack Torrance.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by AfghanistanMatters.

Looking for more Father’s Day reading material? Check out these five books to read with your dad for Father’s Day

Slow-Read Sunday: The Secret Garden (to Ch. XIV)

If you missed our discussion of the first part of The Secret Garden you can always catch up.

Today I’ll ask some questions about the second part, to Chapter XIV.

1. How does Mary think of herself?

It’s a hard question to answer for an adolescent. At what age do we begin to develop our self-image? Mary starts to ask that question about herself on p. 62. We see some of the keener psychological moments in the book when we see Mary start to look at things in new ways. Before she can understand what it means to help someone else she has to come to understand who she is. Mary is going through that process. Try to gauge whether Mary’s opinion of herself changes throughout the book.

2. Symbolism and gardens.

Are our lives like gardens? Are our relationships like gardens? Is the way we should treat ourselves the same as the way we should treat a garden?

3. Gradual progress and improvement.

Mary takes on skipping rope on p. 72. In the beginning she’s poor, but with practice she’ll improve if she practices everyday. The idea of steady gradual improvement is particularly hard to teach young people (all people?). Do you think Burnett is trying to convey this idea to her younger readers?

Or, do you think Burnett is more worried about emotional health and the idea that if we take things one day at a time we can avoid overwhelm?

4. Gardening as empathy.

Mary comes to gardening with very little understanding of the concept of how to garden, but she figures it out quickly using her intuition. Do you think we’re born with the knowledge of how to care for other living things? If not, where do we learn this? Where did Mary learn empathy for her garden?

5. Mary is excited to have a place of her own.

Mary’s excitement about the garden is partially because it’s her own place. As Colin enters the novel try to recognize whether that changes and when it changes. Would Mary behave differently toward Colin had she met him before she had the garden?

For next time let’s read to Chapter XVII, “A Tantrum.”

Free Online-Education Introduces Science Fiction and Fantasy Classics

 This is an essay by Deanna Zachrich.

Coursera is an educational technology company that works with universities to make some of their courses available online. They currently work with sixty-two universities across four continents offering courses in engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, business, mathematics, literature, and many other areas. It’s a great way to engage your brain without spending a small fortune on tuition because every course offered is absolutely free.

I recently participated in a literature course that changed my perception on science fiction – a genre that I steered away from in the past. Yep, I was a science fiction snob. But I’m happy to report my opinions on the genre have changed due to the inspiring lectures of Professor Rabkin from the University of Michigan and insightful peer reviews from hundreds of other students.

Throughout the course, “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World,” I read books that I would never have read otherwise. I gained many new insights on Grimm’s fairy tales, Poe’s  poetry and short stories, Shelly’s Frankenstein, Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, and several others.

Professor Rabkin’s video lectures not only explained each narrative’s story structure, he discussed characters, plot details, and even the writer’s style. As the class moved on to the next book, he compared previous stories to the current study. It was a great way to expand my knowledge in the science fiction and fantasy genres. I learned how to analyze texts which had been difficult for me in the past.

A great motivation for me during this course was the Tuesday deadline for my story thesis. The pressure of finishing a book and writing a short insightful surmise in a week has improved my organization of time for reading and writing.

The peer reviews were good experiences because they showed the diversity of expectations in so many different people. The reviews and comments from other students from around the globe enriched my experience by picking out specific pieces of my thesis that were right on target as well as areas that needed better explanation. The reviews opened my eyes to how differently we all learn.

This course has been an excellent introduction for me into the world of studying literature. I’ve learned to read everything with more concentration for better understanding. My confidence as a writer has blossomed now that I know I can digest and comprehend an entire novel in a week’s time.

I’ve always felt that I should try to learn something new every day. Thanks to Coursera anyone can expand their knowledge on topics that interest them. I’m looking forward to participating in many more courses.

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Deanna Zachrich is happily married, enjoys being the educational coach to her e-schooled daughter, and absolutely loves to write. She writes to express her passions for keeping this planet healthy and has contributed to online magazines and blogs. Deanna reads a lot, likes to dig in the dirt among her various gardens, and believes that teaching our children about green-responsibility should begin in kindergarten, if not sooner.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Wonderlane

Slow-Read Sunday, The Secret Garden (to Chapter VII)

Public Service Announcement: Today we start our discussion of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Be careful of grabbing an abridged version of the book, unless you’re looking to read an abridged version. There are many abridged versions in print, but it seems the free Kindle version is complete.

If a book is it’s own self-contained universe then it’s not necessary to research the historical setting of a novel, but we don’t always do things as a result of necessity. Sometimes, we do things because we want to know a little more. I’ll start the discussion there and then start to delve into some of the book’s major ideas.

1. What’s going on in England/India in 1911?

I’m no historian, but I do know that India was a British colony in 1911. Ghandi had not yet come back to India a hero after his work in South Africa. One of the most common occupations for an English citizen was as a servant. Something near a seventh of employed persons worked in some capacity as a servant. Can you read the book as a criticism of over-reliance on the servant? Look for instances where over-reliance is viewed negatively.

The word, Ayah, is a special native Indian servant employed by Europeans. From the use of this specific English word we can tell the servant culture had been imposed upon India as well.

Did this system result in absentee parents? Did this system result in lazy children?

2. What is cholera?

Cholera killed more than 800,000 people. It was a disease that stemmed from poor waste disposal and water treatment systems. At or around 1911 cholera had been classified as an epidemic. Does an epidemic like cholera have as much of an impact on a cities’ residents as war?

Consider a line from the book: “The cholera had broken out in its most fatal form and people were dying like flies.” loc 73. Does this seem too gruesome for a children’s book or is death something that children faced at an early age as a result of the cholera epidemic?

3. What is the literary significance of a forbidden or secret place?

Do you believe everyone needs a place they can call their own? Even a child? Why does this seem to be universally true? Is it more important at certain ages than others? Is it more important after certain life events than others?

4. What is a moor?

A moor is an open, rolling, infertile land that is usually boggy. Why does the author make a point to describe the moor in detail? We’re told Misselthwaite Manor is on “the edge of the moor.” loc 181. The moor is further described as “a dense darkness”( loc 235) and as “just miles and miles of wild land that nothing grows on but heather and gorse and broom, and nothing lives on but wild ponies and sheep.” loc 241. Is the moor a source of power? What literary purpose does the moor serve? How might the moor be important for developing the book’s “Nature” theme?

5. What role does nature play in our lives?

Burnett states it as an unequivocal fact “that the fresh wind from the moor had begun to blow the cobwebs out of her young brain and to waken her up a little.” loc 503. Do you believe this is true? Can a change of scenery from city life to country life have that kind of impact? Are there health benefits to being outdoors? I’ve read scientific studies that talk about the impact of nature and exercise on mental health. Is Burnett ahead of the curve or reacting to similar scientific findings she would have been privy to at the time she wrote the novel?

Of course, the robin Mary meets also plays a role in the book. Do you believe we can be guided by nature? What does Mary believe at the start of the novel? Try to track whether Mary’s attitudes toward Nature change during the course of the novel.

6. What does it mean to be sorry for some one?

We’re told at loc 526 that one of the things Mary learns is how to “be sorry for some one.” What does that mean? Is Mary growing up and losing the ego-dominance that marked her early years or is she being awakened by the place she’s in? Could it be both? Will Mary associate that awakening–this new empathy–with Misselthwaite Manor for the rest of her life? Do you have a similar place in your memory? Could you write a story about it–even a short one?

7. Whose story is this?

This seems to be a story about Mary, doesn’t it? Let’s try to pay attention to whether that idea holds throughout the novel.

8. What does the garden symbolize?

The garden plays a central role in the book. What does it mean to Mary? What do you feel when you hear about the garden?

For next time, let’s read to Chapter 14 (XIV), “The Young Rajah.”

Photo: Some rights reserved by gnomonic.