Monday, January 19, 2015

Books Are Like A Box of Chocolates ...

I love to read. Followers of my blog will know that. You'll have heard about it or noted in a quote, title or reference from earlier blogs. I have a Goodreads Account where I log the books I read. It helps me remember an author I particularly enjoyed. Goodreads friends can learn more and find new books ... and I find books thanks to them. Once in a while, I take the time to provide a review or response to a book I've read. And, I have a Goal to not only read 49 books in 2015 but to complete the 2015 Classics Challenge. My friend and fellow blogger Ron tossed out the gauntlet from Ron's Bookshelf, and I decided to pick it up.

So three weeks into January and "The Challenge," here's what I have discovered. Books are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get until you bite into them ... and some of them are chewy ... some are smooth like caramel ... some are milky sweet while others are dark ... some are filled with nuts ... and some are just plain dry. 

The first step in Ron's Challenge was to read a book by a woman writer. Now, based on Ron's criteria defining classics as books 50 years or older there were lots of options open to me. In his challenge, various categories outline the different types of books you will explore during the year. One key requirement though is it's not a book you've already read.

So, a woman writer and a book that I haven't read eliminated Austen and both Bronte sisters. It eliminated Louisa May Alcott's Little Women since I think I at least read part of that book as a child. I considered du Maurier but since I've read several of her books already and enjoyed each one I thought I should begin the challenge with someone completely new. Same was true of Agatha Christie. I considered Mary Shelley since I have not yet read Frankenstein, but decided to save her for a later category.

So, I examined my bookshelves and pulled from it a copy of something I'd long wanted to read but hadn't gotten around to it ...Isek Dinesen's Out of Africa.  

For those of you who read the name and thought Isek was a man, uh uh. Isek is better know as Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke -- if you saw the film based on the book Meryl Streep might come to mind. And Out of Africa was written in 1937, setting it securely into The Classic Realm. Thus satisfied, I settled into my cozy reading chair with a cup of tea, blanket and book.

This is where the Chocolate analogy come in ... yes, I'm getting to it ... Out of Africa was no romance novel and it wasn't a smooth caramel read either. It wasn't nutty or dry. Just ... chewy. It took time and engaged my mind fully.

For those of you, like me, who adore the film, let me just say that the book and the film have a very loose relationship. With exception of the title, key characters and select places, I'm not sure how the film was crafted from this particular book. There must have been some other source to create the tale I saw on screen. See, very little happened in the book that happened in the film ... save the fact that Karen "had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills." Once in a great while, a line or a comment resembling one from the film appeared ... like Kamente's "I think that you had better get up, Msabu. I think that God is coming." But that's pretty much where the alignment ends.

Many of the beloved characters were there ... Farah, Kamente, Denys, Barkley and, of course, Karen. But of her husband I read nothing. And of the romance between Denys and Karen ... well, if there was one, it didn't appear very significant in this book. And the club and the toast ... the plea to the Governor ... if it happened, it didn't happen in this book.

So, if I was looking for a romance read, this wouldn't be it. HOWEVER ...

The writing style was poetic and filled with beautifully crafted descriptive elements that made the sites, sounds and smells of Africa come alive. I could truly see the colors in the sky, hear the sounds of the lions, feel the dust during a drought or the itchy feeling of grasshoppers after their horrible visitation. I heard the echo of her footsteps on the porch and the sound of her cuckoo clock. I saw the giraffes and elephants. 

Many lovely, poignant observations were made. I found myself tearing little pieces of paper to mark when a particular comment moved me. Chapters were less linear and more like I was reading Karen's personal journal. With this book, I not only selected an author I'd never read, but experienced short stories, non-fiction and a book based on a movie -- well, loosely. 

There was one observation that I found quite compelling: "People who dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue. They also know that the real glory of dreams lies in their atmosphere of unlimited freedom. It is not the freedom of the dictator, who enforces his own will on the world, but the freedom of the artist, who has no will, who is free of will. The pleasure of the true dreamer does not lie in the substance of the dream, but in this: that there things happen without any interference from his side ... and altogether out of his control. Great landscapes create themselves, long splended views, rich and delicate colours, roads, houses, which he has never seen or heard of ..."

Out of Africa, by Isek Dinesen/Karen Blixen was a chewy read. The passages were thick with descriptive elements. (I admit I had to take a little break in the midst of this read to allow my eyes and mind a quick respite with a delightful coffeehouse mystery (Billionaire Blend by Cleo Coyle) -- something Ron not only approved but endorsed in his blog!) But since I've never personally traveled to Africa, I read this book with intent and received the full gamut of this unique lifestyle without the expense of a ticket to Kenya. Save the final few chapters, there truly wasn't a plot to speak of ... oh, okay, she traveled to Africa and farmed coffee. The book examines the impact of that choice, the people and places she experienced resulting from that choice, and the changes she faced -- including the loss of the farm -- based on that choice. Of Denys, there is very little written. So, I didn't get any sense of romance between them.  Have to admit, I missed that. 

But in the end, I fell more in love with Africa with each page. And I walked with her up the hill where Denys was buried. My romantic nature was satisfied as I read about how the lions did come there, to Denys' final resting place -- one male and one female -- to look over their domain. 

So I guess the romance to be found in Karen's book was the adventure of farming coffee and the challenges of life in Africa during the early days of the 20th Century ... of native encounters, safaris and wildlife. The romance in Out of Africa-the book was found in her eloquent ability to paint with words an enticing and sensory tale of the Kenya of days past ... and make us long for our own farm at the base of the Ngong Hills. 
                                                                                                                 -- Jenni