Howard McEwen

Novelist — Beekeeper — Cocktails — Book Reviews

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Done with Dickens

November 24th, 2017 · No Comments

I’m feeling a bit done with Dickens so I’m calling my 2017 reading project complete. I was feeling like I was coming up short then I did a bit word count math.

Great Expectations, 186,339 words
The Old Curiosity Shop 327,727 words
David Cooperfield 357,489 words
Oliver Twist 158,631 words
Tale of Two Cities 137,000 words

That’s 1,167,186 words…not including the partially read Our Mutual Friend and The Cricket on the Hearth.

I hate measuring by word count but I do think it’s a stat that helps give myself a bit of break.

So, good bye Mr. Dickens. At least for now. In 2016 I was intimidated by you. I was intimidated by your length and language and anachronisms.

But no more. I’m a fan – of your verbose style, your complicated plots and, mostly, your characters.

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My quarter thoughts on Our Mutual Friend

November 16th, 2017 · No Comments

I bailed on it after book 1 – 25% of the way through or so.

It just wasn’t clicking with me and, to be honest, I think I’m tired of reading….Dickens. I’m not holding against myself too much. That’s 5 novels in a year. I just couldn’t see myself (I am in a sickly period right now with a chronic headache) having to PUSH myself through the novel at the end of the year and with the holidays.

So I’ve switched to some of his Christmas books – maybe just one – I’ve already started “The Cricket on the Hearth”….nice, light, and happy – I hope. I can’t do with much more abuse or abandonment or the like that Dickens normally offers up.

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My thoughts: Great Expectations

November 16th, 2017 · No Comments

The beginning of the passage on Dickens in Clifton Fadiman’s “A Lifetime Reading Plan” begins by just reciting Dicken’s characters. The names bring to mind images and scearios and plots unlike any other authors.

Likewise, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Pip or Uncle Joe or Estella or the convict or – mostly – Miss Havisham.

The man could create vivid characters and complex plots that keep me propelled through 300,000 words.

I do think I have a preference for novels like this one and Cooperfield – a straight narative build around one character. Maybe that’s just my limited attention span or maturity but I get a bit exhausted by the litany of characters in some of the other novels and lean heavily on online character lists when one that pops up 20,000 words later baffles me.

I see no downside to the novel.

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Reading The Old Curiosity Shop

August 31st, 2017 · No Comments

Like most of Dickens that I’ve read this year, the characters are now as real as people in my past to me. The guy could write. And naming a character Dick Swivveler is awesome.

But I grew angry at the book. The central villain is supposed to be Quilp. And he’s awful and wonderful to read. However, the true villain of the book was the grandfather. A man who drove his younger brother away, fired and almost destroyed good-hearted Kip and exposing him to Quilp and the Brasses and then drags Nell around the country until she puts her foot down too late, and dies.

Then afterward, the guy is treated with sympathy and kindness where as his gambling addiction, narcissism and self-centeredness destroyed lives throughout the book.

And it’s not like Nell’s death was a great sacrifice for a greater good. It just was the consequence of her grandfather’s selfishness. Ugh!

I like stories of sacrifice and overcoming and the little bit of overcoming in the book was Dick, and that didn’t seem like much of a journey. I mean, he ends up being a good guy after being a bit questionable but….oh well…I’m still angry and the grandfather not drowning with Quilp!

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Thoughts on David Cooperfield

July 28th, 2017 · No Comments

I enjoyed almost all of the 357,000 or so words of David Cooperfield. Overly long? Possibly. In places. Possibly it’s just immersive.

I was sad when I finished it and regretted never having read it before. I wondered if maybe I wasn’t mature enough to read it. Or patient enough. Usually, I stick with short, direct fiction – Hemingway-esque.

But I’ve come to appreciate the epic-ness (in size) of longer fiction through Dickens.

Cooperfield is a much better novel than Twist of Two Cities – both of which I liked. Its characters and their quirks (and names – Murdstone is perfect), its insights in humanity/the human condition.

I may have observed this before but I can relate to Dicken’s Victorian characters so much better than I can American, 21st century fiction.

Maybe because with all his exaggerations, his stories are just more realistic.

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Beekeeping 2017

March 28th, 2017 · No Comments

So I have one hive. It’s in my back yard and it made it through the winter. Glory Bee!

This past weekend I put a fourth box on the bottom of the (Warre) hive and will let them be until spring of 2018.

I’ve also got three nucs ordered up for delivery in April and May. One will go to Vickie, not sure of the others.

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Thoughts on Oliver Twist

March 28th, 2017 · No Comments

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film adaptation of Oliver Twist.

So I assumed it was about a poor orphan making good int he work.
But I was wrong.

What Oliver Twist, the novel, is is a crime novel.

Oliver Twist, the character, just serves as the McGuffin for the story of the London underworld.

Oliver isn’t much of a protagonist. He just hopes around being cheery and sometimes pitiful. The most gumption he offers up is asking for me. And that’s in the first few pages of the book!

The action is really with Monks, Fagin, the Dodger, Bill Sykes and the dreadfully done murder of Nancy. And that bit about the suicidal dog!?!?

I’ve a giant biography of Dickens sitting on my bookshelf at home that I’ll get to reading sometime and there I’ll try to figure out why Oliver is not only the title character but even in the book.

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Thoughts on A Tale of Two Cities

February 15th, 2017 · No Comments

So I have been fearful of Dickens. At some point I tried him and became intimidated.

Then a couple Christmases again I read the Carol and this year decided that if I could do Tolkien and Austen, I could do Dickens.

Am was pleasantly surprised.

I started A Tale in December thinking I’d just wet my toe in him before making my 2017 reading plan ‘official’ but within a few days I was 25% done and on my way.

Why I thought it was going to be a tale of geopolitical intrigue, I’ve no idea. Why I thought the language difficult, no idea. Archaic in some spots but with a Kindle app to refer to, not difficult.

The overall impression I got from the book was how amazingly plotted it was. There’s not a scene or character in the book that doesn’t figure in the climax and ending in some way. There’s no waste whatsoever. I’ve read supposedly complicated spy and crime fiction that wasn’t tied together so closely.

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Thoughts on Northanger Abbey

December 30th, 2016 · No Comments

By the time I started Northanger Abbey, I was done with Austen. Having read five novels in 2016, her insular, unimaginative world was reaching claustophobic proportions for me.

That’s why I was surprised that Northanger Abbey became one of my favorite novels. Supposedly written before the others maybe it was youthful energy that drive me to the end.

However, I think what it had over the others is a better sense of humor and a lightness. What Austen lacks in imagination, her protagonist, Catherine Morland, seems to have. The immature Catherine sees the world through the lens of over-wrought, Gothic novels. She’t not stupid, just….imaginative.

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Thoughts on Jane Austen’s Persuasion

November 18th, 2016 · No Comments

I’m having a heck of a time giving a good gosh darn about any of her characters.

Austen wrote about what she knew, I guess. But what she knew is just so boring. Didn’t she desire to know more? Like her servant’s names?

She also seems to lack anything close to empathy for anyone other that a young woman looking for a boyfriend. Most of the supporting cast of characters seem like cartoons. Many – especially the middle aged married couples – are unlikeable. But I’d like to get some insight into their lives. She must have known them?

Anyway, done. On to the last novel of Austen that I’ll be reading….Northanger Abbey.

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