Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Thwarted Bookworm

One of the things I’ve found most frustrating about having children is the lack of time to read anything I want to read. I’m very good at reading to my girls and encouraging them to read. They both have library cards, which we turn up occasionally in odd places. And now I’ve discovered that we can check out magazines! I can check up on back issues of Real Simple, the magazine of wishful thinking.

But I digress. I get to read very little for my own enjoyment. I read Bing Gets Dressed, several times, and then Firecracker emptied the entire row of Bing books from the shelf, and we’ve been through all the library has to offer of Rolie Polie Olie. Drama Queen is working her way through the Junie B. Jones series, and pauses every few sentences to ask about a word. Last night I ended up coaching her through a PowerPuff Girls book (how did that end up in our collection?) in which Buttercup was keeping a baby whale in her room. The vocabulary seemed far too advanced for the age of a girl who would actually give a crap about the Power Puff Girls, and I finally had to take over reading the whole thing. By the way, if you love an animal, set it free.

But recently I grabbed some time to read a book, much to the chagrin of Dear Husband, who is horrified by the state of the laundry and the kitchen. I read not quite from beginning to end but close enough.  I begin to panic that I might not make it through and start skipping ahead, then backtracking to fill in the details. I do this even with novels of suspense. But, on to my book. Man, this book rocked. It had everything I like—a big door-stop of a book set in Victorian England, with many Dickensian twists and turns and surprising revelations, a dastardly villain or two, and some not-quite sweet and innocent young women.  Books like this can be a disappointment. I think back to my anticipation when I started The Quincunx (which got rave reviews), another door-stop of a book set in Victorian England etc. That book dragged the reader through every possible social ill of that time—child labor, prostitution, slums, the horrors of the legal system, tuberculosis, and so forth. I think they even ended up in the sewers at one point. The author seemed to feel obliged to plod through the entire back end of Victorian culture. When the mom ended up in the tenement I thought: Oh here we go, consumption can’t be far away now. I just had to wait for the coughing to start.

But this book avoided those problems with pacing while also taking a good romp through the Victorian netherworld. The book is called Fingersmith, and it’s about a young girl, Sue, who has been raised among thieves, one of whom serves as a surrogate mother. She is hired by another thief to help him woo a sheltered young heiress, Maude, and then dump her in a madhouse and take her money. Sue goes to work as lady’s maid to Maude, who lives in a dreary falling-down house with her too-weird-for-words uncle who is composing an encyclopedia with the help of the gentleman thief, Maude’s suitor. Maude seems to think marriage is the only way out of her isolated life but also seems to be afraid of her suitor. Well, as the gentleman thief is closing in on his prey, Sue begins to feel a bit sorry for Maude, and then a lot sorry, and then very fond of her, and then very very very fond of her, and well, problems ensue. It ends up that more people are playing deceitful games than you think, and just when you seem to have reached the end of it, there’s another revelation. I’ve just found out that there’s a DVD available of the BBC production, which is supposed to be very well done.  

Perhaps I will be able to report on another book in, say, a year.


  1. I've read that book! Summer 2003, heatwave here in France, I was 8 months pregnant. Fun times. Anyway, the end-feeling of that book stayed with me for longer than I would've expected.

  2. Yeah--I hear you on the reading thing. It's hard to fit it in. Especially if your husband thinks doing housework and/or having sex with him ought to be your top priorities for those few kid-free moments. Not that those aren't important, but . . .

  3. The BBC version is lavish and colourful and I understand quite true to the book though I haven't read it.

  4. I'll have to put that on my summer reading list. Assuming I manage to read something "new". (I find that I have time to read so long as it's in the 10 minutes before falling asleep and I'm reading something I've read before so I don't have to "work" too hard).

    Also, big fan of the Junie B. Jones books.

  5. I have been trying like all get out to ease my busy schedule so I can enjoy stuff like this more. I'm just about there!

  6. Not being able to read was a hard price of being a mum to young kids. I'd end up sleep deprived as my need to read was greater than sleep (or so I thought)

    Now the kids are teenagers they do their own laundry - which frees me no end. If the laundry gets Jeff down, I suggest you show him how to do it. It worked wonders here :)