Books and Reading

Mini-review: A Gathering of Days

Disclaimer: I’m not much of a reviewer. If you are looking for reviews of the latest books, you won’t find them here. A book I buy today might not get read for a decade. Also, I’m too lazy to do the kind of critical reading needed for a review. However, book reviews do tend to be the staple of book blogs and I do like to tell myself that this is a book blog…

Another disclaimer: I am an adult. I am not the target audience. So if I am negative, it probably shouldn’t reflect on the book at all. I mean, it is a “classic” and it has been in publication for a very, very long time.

I promise this is the last disclaimer: I’m also a little cranky today.

Blos
A Gathering of Days
Author: Joan W. Blos

From the inside cover (1979 edition):

Born to the rigors of life on a small New Hampshire farm, thriteen-year-old Catherine Hall is keeping house for her widowed father and younger sister as she begins her journal in 1830, unaware that it is to be one of the most memorable times of her life. Her father’s remarriage introduces a new mother and brother into her home; the plight of a runaway slave opens her eyes to injustice; the tragedy of early death brings her first growing-up grief. And everyday life moves on a swell: quilting, berrying, the great “breaking out” after the snowbound winter, sugaring in the spring, rivalries and romances.

Joan Blos’s moving novel captures the hardship as well as the tranquility of early American farm life and the sturdiness, the tenderness, of the people whose way of life it was.

***

This was a re-read of a childhood book.

This first crossed my path in elementary school. It had just won the Newbery Award and the room mother came to our class to read excerpts from it. I went home and asked my mother to buy it for me. I still have the book and that is the edition I read.

Honestly, that inside cover description makes it sound much more interesting that it was. The adult me was not very engaged by this book. I assume the little me wasn’t very engaged either since I didn’t remember a thing about it hence, the re-read.

Maybe rereading childhood book is not the best thing to do. Or maybe it’s just canonical books I shouldn’t re-read. My adult self is maybe way to cynical…or aware…or my context of this reading was way too hyper-woke social media….something. There were some cringe-worthy bits for me.

For instance, I can forgive the author using “A Jew” (and later he became “The Jew”) as part of the narrative. I’m no historical scholar, but it seems accurate to call the character that. (“Character” may be too strong a term, but I’m using it since he showed up twice.) I guess most people would have called him “The Jew.” What I can’t forgive is that Cassie relates how she learned from him that he labeled the same goods with two different descriptions-“fine” and “good buys” and charged more for the former and less for the latter because when he charged less, people assumed his wares were “tawdry.” Seriously? I know, I know, businesses do actually do that crap, but isn’t “cheating the customer” one of the accusations anti-Semites have hurled at Jews for centuries?

That must have gone over my head as a child since I couldn’t remember it, but obviously it riled me up as an adult since I have so much to say about it.

Also there was the utter lack of depth to anything. I know, it’s supposed to be a young girl’s journal. I’m pretty sure we’ve all read books in diary form that had depth. This did not. Plight of the runaway slave? It seemed like a minimal part of the book. The runaway is referred to as “the phantom” several times and it rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t believe that a 13-year-old child from New Hampshire would have gotten a written note and immediately jumped to the conclusion of “runaway slave” (maybe that’s just grown-up me.) It didn’t feel like the author put a lot of historical context into the entries…even though there was a teacher who was admonished by the board for bringing and reading newspapers to the class. I felt like the author could have done a much better job of contexualizing slavery. Kids aren’t stupid.

One of the most tragic events of the story was totally spoiled on page one in the form of a note written years after the journal proper begins. I really don’t understand that. The whole time I’m reading I know Cassie is going to die. Why even connect with that character at all?

Soooo…not one of my favorite re-reads. I think I’ll have to stick to the pabulum that is Nancy Drew.

Have you ever re-read a book from childhood? What was your experience?

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