Summer Read: Updating Anne of Green Gables


Destination: Northern California

Book: Ana of California by Andi Teran (NEW June 2015)

 

 


The most beloved books seem to be those with the most beloved (or at least most fascinating) lead characters.  That is certainly true of the book Anne of Green Gables about an orphan girl adopted by a farmer brother and sister who lived on Prince Edward Island.  Ten-year-old Anne couldn’t keep her mouth shut, had an enormous vocabulary and a run away imagination.  Every little girl who had been told to be sensible and sit quietly, wanted to be just like Anne. And now we have a teen version of Anne in Ana of California.

Anne of Green Gables:

…what a relief not (to) be told that children should be seen and not heard….But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?

The popularity of the original accounts for numerous spin-offs and today’s tourist attraction of Green Gables farm and village and a whole itinerary for fans of Anne on Prince Edward Island. Since somehow I missed Anne (with an “e” she points out, since Ann without an “e” is so ordinary) when I was a little girl pointing out to people that even though it was two words, Vera Marie was meant to be said as one name.

Because I was reading the Bobbsey Twins series and other books like Black Beauty and Heidi and Beautiful Joe instead of Anne of Green Gables, I was  not tempted to go to pay homage to Green Gables when I was in the area.

House of Green Gables
The house that inspired House of Green Gables. Photo by Peter Broster

However, I have been to the charming redwood country of northern California where Ana of California is set. Now I wonder if in years to come, there will be tours of Ana’s town of Hadley and the Garber Farm? My conclusion (read on) is probably not.

Redwoods
Giant Redwoods, Northern California

Ana of California, when Ana first sees the wild forests of northern California:

Sunlight zigzagged across the dashboard as the truck crept out of the density of the forest and coasted down the hill into a canyon dotted with pine trees.

“Holy—” Ana exhaled. “This view is insane.”

Anne of Green Gables, when she first sees the blooming apple trees of Prince Edward Island:

Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight, and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.

“Pretty? Oh, PRETTY doesn’t seem the right word to use. Not beautiful either.  They don’t go far enough. Oh, it was wonderful, wonderful.  It’s the first think I ever saw that couldn’t be improved by my imagination.”

Ana, a fifteen-year-old orphan of troubled Mexican immigrant parents is very different in many ways from the innocent Anne. Yet, the author clearly was influenced by the older book as she wrote this engrossing coming of age tale. Ana (“Ana like ‘fauna’  not Anna like ‘banana'” she points out with the same sensitivity about names as Anne with an ‘e’).

Both girls, redheads, used to being rejected and totally lacking rural experience, have been sent to a farm run by a sister and brother. In both cases the farmers were hoping for a boy to help with chores. Both girls are vivid personalities. But the differences are so vast, that I hardly identified Ana of California, which reads like a very well written young adult novel with Anne of Green Gables, a children’s book.  Both books have and will be read by adults because there are some charming moments and universal truths to be found.

Ana is well versed in music and art because she loves her time in the library in L.A.

“I’ve spent so much time in the library–it’s the only real home I’ve ever known.  And even though it’s open only at certain times, it’s always welcoming, no matter who you are or where you come from, it’s there without judgment.”

The publisher does not call this a YA novel, which is just as well, because it might miss an audience with that label. On the other hand, it reads like a YA. Ana’s story is at times heart-wrenching, and the supporting cast of characters are drawn with a depth of intricacy not often seen. I loved Ana and wanted to know what she and all those interesting folks around her were going to do. And because she’s a teen, there’s romance as well.

Teran has a real way with words–the words that come from Ana, mostly. But the novel still qualifies as a light-weight–a perfect summer read that you will breeze through. I say that despite the difficulties of a teen character dealing with being gay and the fact that the book touches on the issue of discrimination against Mexican-Americans, and Ana’s own life experience with gangs and violence. So your opinion may be different.

The focus on what styles and particularly what music is ‘in’ or ‘out’ frequently went over my head. When I looked up Ana’s favorite band, the girl band Hex,  I learned that it is fictitious, although she talks about real groups as well. That focus on contemporary teen life,  guarantees that Ana will not have the staying power of Anne. Ana of California speaks directly to adults who came up through the sixties and teens of the the 21st century. And it nails them and their culture. But in another decade it will be as incomprehensible as Joyce’s Ulysses without notes.

As a side note, I was fascinated by the farm and the things Abigail Garber cooks and preserves and hauls to the farmer’s market and sells to a restauranteur interested in locally grown produce. Ana learns what kale is and the difference between a Japanese eggplant and a turnip and how to tell weeds from parsley.  If you have not been to a farmer’s market recently, this book may inspire you to go. And Teran needs to publish a companion cookbook. I want the meal of roast chicken, carrot salad, rosemary corn bread and lavender lemonade. (She and the publishers, Penguin, have produced a Book Club Kit that does a include a couple of recipes, an interview and a play list of the music mentioned in the book. The pdf may take a while to load.)

Most importantly,  I loved Andi Teran’s style.  Hispanic herself, she even introduces a bit of magical realism.  This is her first novel, and I’m hoping she will expand her reach in the next one, and set free her imagination and ability to create oh-so-memorable characters. And I would love to see her set a novel in her native New Mexico, which she describes beautifully in a Paris Review article about the TV show Breaking Bad. Teran is an author to keep an eye on. Meanwhile, despite my reservations, I recommend Ana of California as a pleasing summer read, for adults as well as teens.

Note

  • There are links here to Amazon.com. I am an affiliate, so when you buy something through those links, although it costs you no more, I make a few cents to help pay the rent on A Traveler’s Library. Thanks.
  • The Green Gables picture is from Flickr, used with Creative Commons license. The Redwood forest picture is my own.  Please inquire before reusing.

Vera: British Mystery Draws Us to Northumberland

Every corner of England looks enticing if you watch PBS and their imported shows from BBC and other British producers–particularly mystery shows. (mouse over map to see what county or area is featured.)


SHERLOCK, the contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes, teases us with images of today’s London in the VERY SHORT (3 episode) seasons.

SELFRIDGES, although the longer running series about a popular department store is not a mystery, it takes us through several decades of commercial London and cuts across various social levels.

INSPECTOR LEWIS (and its forerunner Inspector Morse) lures us to the charming university town of Oxford, west of London.

Cambridge England
Peterhouse, Cambridge England. Photographer A.D. Teasdale

GRANTCHESTER, with its hard-drinking, mystery solving, sexy young priest, does its best to lure us to rival university town Cambridge, north of London.

Yorkshire, England
A village in Yorkshire, England

DOWNTON ABBEY, another non-mystery show that has been seen by just about everyone, has just about everyone yearning to rent a manse in the green, green moors of Yorkshire in northern England.

LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX , a love story rather than a mystery, shows us a contemporary Yorkshire right in the middle of inland Yorkshire.

South Coast of England
The territory of Foyle’s War, along the English Chanel in the South of England.

FOYLE’S WAR takes us back in time to World War II and to the  south coast of England for more charming villages and bucolic scenes. Several counties were used as settings, including Sussex, Surrey, Dorset,, Hampshire and Kent.

DOC MARTIN ignites a passion for the rocky cliffs, green fields and flower-filled quaint villages of Cornwall in the southwest.

VERA

Northumberland
Northumberland Border

And now along comes the mystery series VERA, intent on dragging us all the way up northeast–almost to Scotland– to her stomping grounds in NorthumberlandAccording to the tourism folks, the show has done a terrific job of increasing the number of visitors to this chilly if scenic part of Britain.

I may be influenced by her wonderful first name :-), but Vera Stanhope, Detective Commissioner Investigator (or DCI as we fans call them) strikes me as one of the most interesting of all the English mystery solvers.

She is never outdoors without an overcoat and long wool scarf, and usually a waterproof hat. Indoors, she is rarely without a flagon of ale–unless more staid setting demands a cup of tea–either of which one would think would be needed to warm up after those windy forays outside.  Her somewhat frumpy middle age is rescued from plainess by big, soft, brown eyes.

Her demeanor is winning, going from sympathetically calling a suspect “luv” to barking insults at her crew if they don’t respond quickly enough to her commands. When she gets down to seriously questioning a bad guy, you know this is someone you would not want to mess with!

But about that constant coat and wool scarf–Northumberland is definitely not going to be a fun and sun vacation. So what is the draw? Dramatic landscape, crashing waves, endless vistas, castles and Hadrian’s Wall.

The series is based on books by Ann Cleeves, and Northumberland’s tourism blog explains how you can follow in Vera’s footsteps in an article on literary travel.

What have I missed? Have you seen other English TV that makes you want to travel?

Darn that PBS/British television partnership for making us want to travel all over England!

 Disclaimer: I have included some links to Amazon here, in case you’d like to buy CDs or download some of the programs. Although it costs you no more, when you shop through my links, you are helping A Traveler’s Library, because I am an Amazon affiliate.

Summer Reads: A Double Header: Italy and Maine

Destinations: Italy and Maine

Books: Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen (NEW in June, 2015)

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim (originally published 1922, NEW in Penguin Classics in June, 2015 with introduction by Brenda Bowen.)

Four women who are strangers come together to rent a vacation home for a month. They become friends, renew romantic attachments with the men left at home and experience the magic of place.

That describes both of these books. The venerable The Enchanted April (Penguin Classics), first published in 1922 by Elizabeth Von Arnim and the new book inspired by that one–Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen.

I realize that the style of Elizabeth Von Arnim can seem a bit dated–the book is, after all, 83 years old. But I enjoy the trip back in time and a refresher course in the dry wit and emphasis on propriety of manners seen in books from England in the 20s.

Of course, the thing that everyone enjoys about this book is not the time travel, but the travel to a gorgeous piece of the world–Italy–somewhere near a coastal village, in a mansion practically smothered in flower beds, where flowers bloom all summer, presenting a constantly changing foreground for the mountains and the sea.

I had seen the movie (1992), but not read the book. I remembered gorgeous scenery, but not much more.

I am very glad I had this opportunity to read Von Arnim’s original book. Two women meet in a private club in London where they both have noticed an ad for an Italy villa for rent in Italy. Lottie Wilkins persuades Rose Arbuthnot to join her there, and they recruit the beautiful and well-born Caroline Dester. The fourth character, Mrs. Fisher, is an older woman who likes to name drop about famous people she knew, and judge everyone around her.

 There were many things she disliked more than anything else, and one was when the elderly imagined they felt young and behaved accordingly.

Von Arnim’s well-crafted sentences of description are what was missing from the movie, although the movie showed us the scenery that we can only imagine in the book, as when Lottie first looks out her bedroom window in Italy.

All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her feet.  The sun poured in on her.  The sea lay asleep in it, hardly stirring.  Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different in colour, were asleep too in the light; and underneath her window, at the bottom of the flower-starred grass slope from which the wall of the castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues and violet and rose-colours of the mountains and the sea like a great black sword.

As I rewatch the movie on Netflix, Joan Plowright, as the very proper Mrs. Fisher, recruited to help pay the rent, still cracks me up. Mrs. Fisher’s mannered observations bring to mind Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey.  And lo and behold, Elizabeth Von Arnim makes an appearance in Downtown Abbey, so perhaps the writer was influenced by her as he penned the character of Violet.

Please don’t skip the introduction to the Penguin edition of The Enchanted April.  It frames the book perfectly, and sets the scene for the time and the style. Perhaps it will lead you to Brenda Bowen’s book, Enchanted August

Bowen, who obviously adores Von Arnim, updates the 1920s book’s concept, placing it firmly in the 20th century. Playing to an American audience rather than the British home of the other author, the book is set in Maine. The two women who launch the idea–Lottie and Rose, and the woman trying to escape all her adorers, Caroline Dester, share the names and character traits of the matching characters in The Enchanted April.

Class disparities in the American version are  based on occupation and celebrity rather than inherited titles.  Lottie and Rose meet at their children’s upscale preschool in Brooklyn rather than in a private club in London. Caroline is a movie star instead of a titled wealthy woman

Lifestyle changes in the past 80-plus years are striking. The large cottage in Maine has no servants. Unlike their predecessors in that isolated Italian villa, where they had only each other, the ladies interact with other summer residents on the small island somewhere near Mount Desert.  The two younger women have children–an encumbrance that would merely have cluttered the lives of the women in Von Arnim’s book. And of course they must worry a great deal about computer reception and cell phones with no signal.

While the women in the English book take advantage of the isolation to contemplate their lives, the American women busy themselves with projects–Rose in the village library and Caroline with a teen age drama group. Is this lack of introspection an American trait, or a casualty  of the cultural changes between 1920 and 2015?

Admittedly, in 1922, Caroline Dester also has no desire to tax herself with introspection as she lies in the sun in the Italian garden:

It was very curious, and no one in the world could have been more surprised than she herself, but she wanted to think. She had never wanted to do that before…She had not been there more than a few hours when this strange new desire took hold of her.

I found one other difference to be perhaps whimsical but. to my mind unnecessary. One of the characters–the fusty older woman, Mrs. Fisher– became a fusty older gay man, Beverly Fisher, grieving the passing of his partner, a famous poet.  At the risk of sounding incredibly politically incorrect and insensitive, I have to ask,”Why has it become obligatory to include at least one gay character in every book, movie, and TV show?” Does that make up for pretending they did not exist for the past 200 years of American literature and entertainment? I don’t think so. The question should be, what does this sex change of a character add to the book?

Answer: The character of Beverly Fisher is pivotal to Enchanted August, replacing the cook in the original version with his gourmet creations, eliciting much more sympathy than the older woman in the original, and in general practically stealing the show. But it takes away the intimacy of a women-only retreat and their sharing of knowledge about their own development and the men they deal with or have dealt with.

In general, Enchanted August presents a lovely escapists novel for summer reading. But Brenda Bowen’s writing is uneven. She took a great chance in allowing her first adult novel to be compared to the seasoned writing of Elizabeth Von Armin. There are times when Bowen rises almost to the eloquence of Von Armin, although she is writing about a much less eloquent age. And through most of the book I was eagerly turning pages to see how things would turn out for one of the characters, who were appealing each in their own way.  However, there were also times when the plot seemed to bog down in trivia and the unnecessary intrusion of subplots concerning the island’s summer crowd.

Which place would I most want to go for a month?  If I could travel back in time, as well as distance (and at 1920’s prices), the Italian villa would be a dream.  But all things considered, I have to admit that I would probably be most comfortable in a large cottage on an island in Maine.

How about you?  Would you like to inhabit the world of The Enchanted April, or that of Enchanted August. Or does a month away with three other women sound awful. Or if you’re a guy–would you join these four women if invited?