Saturday, October 15, 2011

Group Read: The House of the Seven Gables

Group reads satisfy on so many levels. For me, the increased sense of community is the biggest draw. Comparing progress notes with other readers on twitter is like running into a friend at Wegmans. Not only do these random updates add to my enjoyment, they strengthen friendships. Group reads also provide an opportunity to read a book I might not get to on my own. And finally, participating in a group read always leads to deeper understanding of the selected title. Other readers, without fail, pick up on things I barely notice.

My main problem with group reads is timing. Often finishing just a little too late, I seem to lack the discipline other readers master so easily. By them time I'm ready to discuss, the group has moved on. Or else, as in the case of The House of the Seven Gables, I finish weeks ahead of schedule and struggle to pull my thoughts together at discussion time.

The first chapters of The House of the Seven Gables required extraordinary concentration and effort. Whether it was Hawthorne's writing style or my own evening fatigue, I just couldn't get into the rhythm of the narrative and turned to an audio version for help. Anthony Heald's excellent narration carried me forward and I was able to follow the story with ease. The routine of listening in the car and reading at home allowed me to finish the book quickly.

The atmosphere of the novel surely lends itself to the season: an old curse, supernatural occurrences, haunting, and family discord. Hepzibah and Clifford were highlights in this gloomy novel. Wonderful passages detailed Hepzibah's unfortunate appearance and her descent to shop proprietor. Clifford's eccentricities and child-like behaviours also proved memorable, as did their tragic withdrawal from society.
"Nothing gives a sadder sense of decay, than this loss or suspension of the power to deal with unaccustomed things and to keep up with the swiftness of the passing moment. It can merely be a suspended animation; for were the power to actually perish, there would be little use of immortality. We are less than ghosts for the time being, whenever this calamity befalls us." (p.141)
Despite these bright spots, The House of the Sevens Gables will not be counted among my favorites this year. A neutral to slightly positive reaction is all I can muster. I consider myself a patient reader, but this story took forever to develop. The 'action' occurred quickly and the mysteries were tidily resolved at the end.

Based on previous experience with Hawthorne, my reaction came as no surprise. I disliked The Scarlet Letter in high school and, although a reread five years ago lead to greater appreciation, I still disliked it as an adult. I should have sworn off Hawthorne at that point, but the lure of a group read and a long standing curiosity about The House of the Seven Gables proved irresistible.

Bottom line: I'm glad I read The House of the Seven Gables, but my classics to-be-read list is far too long to spend any more time with an author I don't love. I'm afraid we're through, Mr. Hawthorne.

Thank you, Frances and Audrey, for hosting this group read. Other group read posts can be found here.


  1. I think this is one of those books that sounds like something I would enjoy, but I suspect I might not as much as I think. It's the whole curse, spooky, supernatural aspect that draws me. I think I like to think about reading it more than I really want to.

    It was the same with Henry James' TURN OF THE SCREW, which I did read and then was kind of "meh" about.

  2. I have always loved Hawthorne. I thought The Scarlett Letter was great and have also had good luck with his short stories but man, I hated The House of the Seven Gables. I thought it was such a bore!

  3. I'm in your camp about this book --I liked it in parts, and could see some of the artistry (and humor) in it, but thought it was choppy and in the end unsatisfying. I admire your perseverance, and I'm so so glad you read (and listened) to it with us.

    {I have to add though that I loved your Wegmans analogy! I loved going to one of their stores in Pennsylvania when I lived in Delaware, and 'our' new store - reputed to be the biggest grocery store in New England - is opening tomorrow. There was a story in the paper yesterday about some women renting a Winnebago to camp out in the parking lot overnight. It's a little too far for me to go there often, but I will once in a while, when the hysteria dies down.)

  4. JoAnn, I enjoyed your review and your candor. I generally agree with you about Hawthorne too. He is not an American author that I have ever particularly cared for.

    I also agree with you about group reads. I have done several and they thoroughly enhanced my reading enjoyment of whatever novel we happened to have tackled. My group reads have all been on-line affairs, and I'd love to find a group, close to home, that I could do a group-read with. I think it would be so much fun getting together once a week and talking about the book we're reading. Have a great weekend! Cheers! Chris

  5. People react differently to the same piece of writing. That's why I appreciate it when a reader tells of his/her reactions objectively without falling into the common mantra of 'oh! I enjoyed it. It's nice.' We are different. I had to suspend Possession and continue later, in order to complete it. Yet, I've a friend to whom it is a favourite novel. For instance, my favourite Achebe is not Things Fall Apart, it is Arrow of God.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

  6. You're the better person. I started it, but could not finish it. In a year where I've read some new-to-me classics and reread some others, this just didn't work.

  7. I'm intrigued by idea of this as an audio book. With the complicated language, this could be a challenge for both reader and listener. I had to google Anthony Heald to be sure he was the actor I remembered from The Silence of the Lambs - you must have enjoyed his narration to stick with it.

  8. In my reading of The House of the Seven Gables this time, I was so focused on the details, taking lots of little notes on index cards, I didn't have time to think about whether I still liked it. I do, but for reasons more than just the story or the writing. Maybe partly because I've "conquered" it. Thanks for talking about the audio version; I'm curious but probably will wait a year to look it up. Yes, Hawthorne is so very challenging!

  9. Giving Nat the heave-ho? :) I am so alone in enjoying this one but love all your reasons for loving the group read including that Twitter connection. But as for this one? Flawed but I love his near poetic use of language and his sly humor. Perhaps our next shared read will be loved by all. Fingers crossed.

  10. I always wondered if I was missing out on something by not reading this author. Now, I don't feel bad at all. Like you, I am drawn to group reads but I always seem to fall behind or lack the discipline to finish it

  11. It's been a long time since I read any Hawthorne. I don't remember liking his books all that much despite interesting topics. This book I remember having a creepy kind of atmosphere...haunting as you said

    I enjoyed your pos and your honestly about this book and Hawthorne's works that you've read. I'm reminded that my less than favorable impressions of this book are most likely sincere! I probably won't be picking it up any time soon....this is one classic I don't feel I want to reread!

  12. I haven't read this book in 40 years and really want to again. Maybe the audio might be the way to go this time?

    I do like group reads, but coordination is tough, I agree.

  13. "This story took forever to develop." Completely agree, JoAnn, which wouldn't have been so much of a problem for me except that I didn't think there was much of a payoff at the end either. While your reasons for giving up on Hawthorne are completely understandable, I'll be giving him a few more tries because I actually liked him quite a bit way back when. Anyway, better luck with your next author!

  14. Kay - I know what you mean. I've read The Turn of the Screw Twice and still can't decide what happened. Maybe one more time?

    Reviewsbylola - Hawthorne and I have never really gotten along. Is there a short story you think I should try? I'm done with his novels...

    Audrey - Thanks so much for hosting this group read! I do love them. As to Wegmans, I am a true devotee...have been shopping there for as long as I can remember. When they built our new store on the other side of the parking lot (15 yrs ago), I was there opening day. Can't wait to hear about your new store.

  15. Chris - It's hard to say I'm through with an author, but will admit defeat with Hawthorne... so many other great books are waiting!

    Nana Fredua-Agyeman - These differences of opinion add so much to group reads!

    Amy - I'm pretty sure I'd have given up without the audio.

    Lisa May - I never made that connection with Anthony Heald! He has also narrated Crime & Punishment... am giving it some serious consideration.

    Julia - Close reading offers a much different experience than my first brush with this novel. I won't get to that point with Hawthorne, unfortunately...

    Frances - There were definitely some wonderful moments in this book. Not at all sorry for spending time with Nat. Thanks for hosting!

    Staci - Glad I could put your mind at ease with this one, lol! Hawthorne just isn't for me...

    Amy - Since my initial negative impressions were from high school, I'm glad I gave Hawthorne another try as an adult... it's hard to admit a great author is not for me.

    Diane - The audio was very well done...I think you'd like it. I've listened to several classics the last couple of years and enjoyed the experience.

    Richard - Exactly! The quick, tidy resolution after seemingly endless set up really tried my patience. Perhaps I'd enjoy Hawthorne's short stories more...

  16. Your post is hard for me ! I just bought "The house of the seven gables" in French (I'm french) and "The scarlet letter" in english , to read them (of course). I have the chance to be in US for two weeks and visited boston and the house of the seven gables yesterday in Salem !
    I posted on my blog a few days ago a photo of the grave of Eisabeth Pain who inspired "The scarlet letter" and I'll send shots of the house in a few days.

  17. I've been meaning to read this and think that combining the audio with it would definitely be the way I would need to go to keep it alive and interesting. And I'm with you when it comes to the group reads motivation, and it's tough for me to follow the timing of it as well. But it is definitely the sense of community that keeps it all knitted together :)

  18. I love the idea of group reads but I never seem to be able to keep up at all so I think I just need to give up on them. I tried reading this book a few years ago and just couldn't get into it. Maybe I'll try the audio as well.

  19. I tried to read this one several years ago. I got to maybe 150 pages or so, and just gave up. I read it for much the same reasons, it's a classics, I liked Scarlet Letter eons ago, this is one you should read...well not for me.
    Kudos for finishing. Group reads are fun, but I either find out too late, or something else comes up. Thanks for the post!

  20. Annie - I hope to visit the House of the Seven Gables the next time I am in the Boston area.. can't wait to see your photos. The photos of Elisabeth Pain's grave and Alcott house are amazing. Hopefully you will have better luck reading Hawthorne than I did!

    Natalie - Hawthorne's language bogged me down at the beginning (being tired didn't help), so the audio was a perfect solution for me. Strange that I can sometimes concentrate better listening...

    Darlene - Timing is definitely the hard part... I even have trouble with my book club selections.

    Jenny Girl - At the library today, the librarian asked about books I'd read recently. When I mentioned this one, she confessed to giving up, too. You are in good company!

  21. I tried the Scarlet Letter. Didn't get far. Perhaps I need to try again - or not.

  22. Midlife Jobhunter - Hawthorne does have his fans, but I'm not one of them. As for trying The Scarlet Letter again, my advice would be to read what you enjoy - life is too short!


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