Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pride and Prejudice

I'm experiencing something of an England literature renaissance - a few years ago I fell deeply in love with Mary Ann Evans (aka: George Eliot), and I just finished Pride and Prejudice and LOVED it! You know I've got Wuthering Heights up on my bedside table, too.

I was under the impression that I didn't like Austin for lo these many years - one's tastes change, though, and the time was suddenly right for me and her. Honestly, sometimes I have to wonder how Shakespeare gets all the credit for Eng Lit - Austin and Eliot are Just So Amazing.

I love the way she structures her characters - so many of them are caricatures - the ambitious and silly mother, the obsequious Reverend, the snobby gentry, the "good" sister and the "bad" one - but, nevertheless, the main characters, Darcy and Elizabeth, really do grow and change through the novel.

As I read it, I really regretted the English Lit degree that I never got - how I would love to sit around a seminar table and talk about this book for hours, and then write a 400 page dissertation on, oh, something like Romantic Love and Early Feminism. I suppose someone's probably already written that...

Here are a few of my favorite lines:
The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.

Her own thoughts were employing her. She expected every moment that some of the gentlemen would enter the room. She wished, she feared, that the master of the house might be amongst them; and whether she wished or feared it most, she could scarcely determine.

and, the classic:

You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

I actually read the entire book on my new ipod touch (on a P&P app, no less). The experience of reading my first book on a mobile devise was an interesting one - with a couple of pluses (it's 4"x2" and only weights 4 ounces, I always had it on me, I could read in the dark without bothering husband too much) and a couple of negatives (it hurt my eyes sometimes, I couldn't write in the margins, had to watch the battery). I'm not going to run out and buy a Kindle, but it was handy to have a book always on me.

One thing that I never thought would bother me was that I really wanted to know where in the book I was - I had to keep checking the table on contents to see how many chapters remained. I think seeing how many pages I have left helps me gauge my pacing. There's something exciting about flipping pages ever faster when the plot gets exciting, but all I could do was scroll along a little more quickly. I think some contemporary artists (Krauss, Safron Foer) utilize the paper page in their stories, and I wonder what it would be like to read their work on a screen. Something, surely, will be lost. So, I'll remain fairly loyal to the physical book in my hand, but, as Ann Kirschner writes in her article, Reading Dickens Four Ways, I love reading more than I love books.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Rebecca Traister wrote an article for Salon a couple of years ago about the new surge of books about or Jane Austin and the Austen-verse, and people who want to live in it. Most of them start with some variation of the phrase It is a truth universally acknowledged and ends with a young woman finding love in her own "Mr Darcy" - a man that at first seems aloof and snobby, but it turns out he's really dreamy and loyal and kinda shy. Traister reminds us that, 200 years ago, the game was less about finding romance and more about desperately securing a deal that would leave women financially solvent before it was too late.

I haven't actually read much Jane Austen - I'm half-way through Pride and Prejudice now, and, I'm finding her absolutely hilarious. So far, I love it. I hate to pretend like I know that much about her work, although I am a big fan of several off-shoots - Bridget Jones's Diary, Colin Firth and the BBC version.

I picked up Austenland for my sister, who's something of a Janeite, but, it called out to me too, and I read it myself. Shannon Hale's book (here's the first chapter) is about a young woman who goes to something of a Jane Austen theme park, wherein she visits a big Regency house in England for a couple of weeks and dresses and eats and sits quietly and attempts to sew and play the piano while wooed by a couple of actors who pretend to be characters from the books.

For the most part, I found it enjoyable but light reading. I think Hale tried a little too hard to make her Jane an unwilling participant in her own vacation. She goes to some convoluted lengths to show that Jane, who's hung up on the concept of Mr Darcy (more like Colin Firth) is just going along with everything in order to finally purge her Darcy fantasy forever. That was a bit of a stretch that I think could have been easily cleaned up. The bits about her history of bad boyfriends were pretty funny. One of the first things that happens to her in Austenland is that her body literally aches from lack of exercise - it reminds me of a line from a Jane Austen movie where two women take a short walk around a room and one proclaims, "This is SO refreshing!" A line me and said sister like to shout at each other, usually when we're in a pool, cocktail in hand.

I'm going to turn back to the real Austen and then probably uh, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

More Tim Gunn

Awesome public service announcement from Tim Gunn visiting the NY Public Library. He is shown some historic documents and books about fashion. Libraries are often overlooked as keepers of artifacts, and too bad too! There are some librarians out there who are just dying to show off the coolest thing in their collection! Why not ask your local librarian what she'd like to share with you?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Atmospheric Disturbances

Atmospheric Disturbances was our last book club book. It's the first novel by Rivka Galchen (2008). It's about a man, a psychiatrist, who suddenly believes the woman who comes home, who looks and sounds exactly like his wife, is not actually his wife.

Hopefully without giving too much away, there's a bit of a mystery as to whether the man has actually gone crazy or whether the woman really isn't his wife. And, my point of view, which, I suppose, really does give it all away, is that it really doesn't matter one way or the other, the heart of the issue is that the person you love is likely to change. Galchen's story is a metaphor for this transformation.

Galchen is certainly a very talented writer - she has a contemporary style and the text includes various images that made the reading experience really enjoyable and fun.

Atmospheric Disturbances has a lot to do with perceptions of reality, and, while reading it, I definitely had "reality" on my mind. One phrase, consensus view of reality, made me sit back and think for some time.

I would imagine this book is not for everyone, in fact, very few people at book club claimed to come anywhere near enjoying it (I was one), but, I think it was quite interesting, especially if you're a fan of contemporary fiction.