Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Panic at Pemberley is right!

Remember that time I told you I was listening to Death Comes to Pemberley on audiobook? It was awful. I would never, ever recommend it to anyone. I wanted to like it, because look at that pretty cover. But really, it was probably the worst book I've ever entered into Goodreads.

Now, I just stumbled across this article "Now panic comes to Pemberley: Pride and Prejudice director fears backlash from fans." First of all, well-done with the catchy article title related to the book. Secondly, you're damn straight there should be some concerns. Janeites did not like the book, do you think they'd like the movie? No. But do I think the movie will be better than the book? It has to be.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Let's Talk About James Bond

I'm disappointed in Barnes and Noble. Their recent post "The Most (In)Famous Mary Sues in Fiction" has garnered a lot of scorn from me.

First of all, Mary Sue is basically an idealized character, often one representing the author. Prime example by the author:
Fanfic Mary Sue saves Dumbledore’s life with the world’s greatest healing charm, is proposed to by Mr. Darcy AND Captain Wentworth at the same garden party, and possesses striking green eyes that Peeta Mellark can’t stop staring into.
Good topic! Great example! I love this idea. There are definitely plenty of appalling MarySues around. The blogger mentions the following list is comprised of MarySues in published fiction (not fan fiction). Okay, still on board.

The blogger leads off with James Bond. A fairly legitimate choice, since he's definitely perfect in every way.

If Casanova mated with a particularly ruthless robot, their child would be James Bond. He’s refined, clever, mad successful with the ladies, and able to keep a cool head in any situation. Just once we want to see Bond getting hit in the nuts with a football, or yelling at a Starbucks barista about soy milk.

No. No. No. I'm disgusted by this synopsis.

Casanova? Sure. ROBOT? Hardly. He keeps a cool head, as she says, because that's what he's trained to do. That is his job. So what if he's mad successful with the ladies - he's hardly the only character in fiction to do that (uh, helloooo, you just named Casanova. And what about Don Juan? eh eh?). Also: BOND'S WIFE GETS KILLED. Yeah, so, he can't always get what he wants.

Bond doesn't play football, so he can't get hit in the nuts. However, did you read or see Casino Royale? The man's balls were beaten to a pulp, to the point that he really believed he would never get an erection again. I think that counts. Plus, he gets violently, physically abused in almost every book/movie. He's not running around, saving the world without a scratch. Now, if you wanted to critique how he knows how to operate any kind of vehicle ever, I could see why that's a bit of a stretch...

He won't shout at a barista because he would never lower himself to drink coffee from Starbucks, he has his own coffeemaker at home, and he eats/drinks at the work cafeteria when in the office, and I'm fairly certain his coffee order wasn't complicated to begin with. Finally, he's a true gentleman that doesn't shout at someone serving him. Let's be real, here, people. Bond doesn't squash the little people (they hardly exist in his world) - his secretary is a perfect example.

I feel like this was written based on faint (very faint) idea of the film version of Bond and absolutely no clue as to the true fictional nature of the man - and that's coming from someone who has only read three or four of the books.

I'm also really annoyed that, if the idea of the Mary Sue is based on the AUTHOR becoming the perfect character, the author is missing from this particular writeup. There has been so much speculation (and so much published) about the life of Fleming (womanizing and secret wartime spy) and the spies he worked with and/or wrote about, the whole "Mary Sue" part of the argument is lost. Sure, sure, that might be guessing at authorial intent and assuming so many of the things about the author, but, in theory, the Mary Sue involves the author. So, instead of a well-thought argument, this blogger is just basically picking on the characters.

I briefly glanced at the rest of the list, disagreeing that Charles Wallace is at all a Mary Sue, because he clearly isn't perfect, otherwise they wouldn't have to save him. Not to mention, if you're going to pick on Charles Wallace, you should probably pick on Old Father Time from Jude the Obscure, too.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Penguin 100 Classics to Read Before You Die / Penguin 10 Essentials

I found a list online called "Penguin's 100 Classic Books You Must Read Before You Die." I found it online in lots of places and in lots of blogs, but not on Penguin's site. It seems old, so maybe that's why. But I thought the list was worth repeating, like so many lit lovers, because it's an interesting assortment. I'm really glad to see Wilkie Collins on here, that's for sure. Plus, I get all stoked when I can highlight books I've read off of major lists--like the 27 I've already tackled below. {Sorry for all the weird highlighting, there are two colors and yet I only selected one...} The ones in blue type are on my definitely-to-read list, meaning at the end of my life I'll have at least tried to tackle 50%--the only books I care about, anyhow. 

1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey  
2. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories - Nikolai Gogol  
3. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys 
4. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
5. Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
6. Story of the Eye - Georges Bataille 
7. Spy In House Of Love - Anais Nin 
8. Lady Chatterly's Lover - D.H.Lawrence 
9. Venus in Furs - Leopold von Sacher-Masoch 
10. The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer 
11. The Karamazov Brothers - Fyodor Dostoevsky 
12. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad 
13. Diamonds Are Forever - Ian Fleming 
14. The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov 
15. The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad16. A Room With a View - E. M. Forster 
17. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte 
18. Don Juan - Lord George Gordon Byron 
19. Love in a Cold Climate- Nancy Mitford 
20. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Tennessee Williams 
21. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens 
22. Middlemarch - George Eliot 
23. She: A History of Adventure - H. Rider Haggard 
24. The Fight - by Norman Mailer 
25. No Easy Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela 
26. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck 
27. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton 
28. Notre-Dame of Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) - Victor Hugo 
29. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy 
30. The Old Curiosity Shop - Charles Dickens 
31. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson 
32. Bram Stoker's Dracula - Bram Stoker33. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley 
34. The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole 
35. The Turn of the Screw - Henry James 
36. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray 
37. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov 
38. Baby doll - Tennessee Williams 
39. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote 
40. Emma - Jane Austen 
41. On the Road - Jack Kerouac 
42. The Odyssey - Homer 
43. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck 
44. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome 
45. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll 
46. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald 
47. Vile Bodies - Evelyn Waugh 
48. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde 
49. The Beautiful and Damned - F. Scott Fitzgerald 
50. Against Nature - Joris-Karl Huysmans 
51. The Autobiography of Malcolm X - Malcolm X 
52. The Outsider - Albert Camus 
53. Animal Farm - George Orwell 
54. The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx 
55. Les Misérables - Victor Hugo 
56. The Time Machine - H. G. Wells 
57. The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick 
58. The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells 
59. The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham 
60. We - Yevgeny Zamyatin 
61. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess 
62. Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga - Hunter S. Thompson 
63. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens 
64. Another Country - James Baldwin 
65. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote 
66. Junky: The Definitive Text of Junk - William S. Burroughs 
67. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins 
68. Confessions of an English Opium Eater - Thomas De Quincey 
69. Subterraneans - Jack Kerouac 
70. Monsieur Monde Vanishes - Georges Simenon 
71. Nineteen Eighty-four - George Orwell 
72. The Monkey Wrench Gang - Edward Abbey 
73. The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli 
74. Bound for Glory - Arthur Miller 
75. Death of a Salesman - Georges Simenon 
76. Maigret and the Ghost - Georges Simenon 
77. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins 
78. The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler 
79. A Study in Scarlet - Arthur Conan, Sir Doyle 
80. The Thirty-Nine Steps - John Buchan 
81. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert 
82. Therese Raquin - Ãmile Zola 
83. Les Liaisons dangereuses - Pierre Choderlos de Laclos 
84. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne 
85. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy 
86. I, Claudius : From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, Born 10 B.C., Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 - Robert Graves 
87. Hangover Square - Patrick Hamilton 
88. The Beggar's Opera - John Gay 
89. The Twelve Caesars - Suetonius 
90. Guys and Dolls - Hal Leonard Corporation 
91. Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson 
92. The Iliad of Homer - Homer 
93. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas94. From Russia with Love - Ian Fleming 
95. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy 
96. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons 
97. The Diary of a Nobody - George Grossmith 
98. Pickwick Papers - Charles Dickens 
99. Scoop - Evelyn Waugh100. Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis

Interestingly, while searching for the official origin of this list, I came across Penguin's 10 Essential Classics. Like, if you only read 10 classics, read these. I've tackled 70% of that list. Of note: Only two of these ten are on the 100 list. Hmmp. And there's no Dickens or Mark Twain. Hmmm....

Penguin’s 10 Essential Classics:
1. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
2. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
3. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
4. The Odyssey – Homer
5. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
6. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
7. Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
8. Oedipus Rex – Sophocles
9. Walden – Henry David Thoreau
10. Inferno – Dante 

Caught Fire

All right, I get it, finally: the obsession with The Hunger Games trilogy. I've listened to two of the three books, and I'm eager to start the third--although not for some time, because I just started the audiobook Death Comes to Pemberley. I can't say I'm as enthralled as everyone who was reading it during its heyday, but I'm very much enjoying it. It's sick and twisted at its core (awesome) and laden with stupid teenage indecisive love (lame. C'mon, Peeta, have some emotion other than heartsick-sacrificla-lamb), but it works.

The narrator, Carolyn McCormick, is my favorite audiobook personality so far. I might search out other books she's read, just because she read them.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Dealbreakers

Well thank you, interwebs, for inspiring two blog posts this week!

Today, Book Riot did a What Are Your Book Dealbreakers post. Here's the list:

1. Casual treatment of sexual assault or rape. (This is the one I encountered yesterday).
2. Books that ignore the existence of LGBTQ relationships.
3. Books that characterize any LGBTQ characters as inherently untrustworthy/up-to-no-good.
4. Books with female characters who cry at the drop of a hat, especially if the author is male.
5. Inappropriate treatment of the issue of suicide.
6. When a plotline fails to make logistical sense.
7. Minor but basic factual errors, especially in nonfiction.
8. Books that repeatedly substitute obscure words for standard ones (“orb” for “eye,” “tresses/locks/mane” for “hair,” “tome” for “book).
9. Sudden romance: when two characters who have no chemistry and who have not appeared to be developing feelings for each other suddenly announce that they are in love.
10. Excessively prolonged romantic tension: when you know two characters are meant to be together and they should know it too but they refuse to do anything about it.
11. When a book ignores basic known facts about the world for the sake of a plot.
12. Oversimplification of mental illness.

Interesting. I've never come across something as a standard dealbreaker. I've only given up on one book, ever, and that was Zelda by Nancy Milford. But I was young, and uninterested, and didn't understand the significance of the woman I was discovering. It wasn't because of any of these things.

Incest? Sure! Rape? It's probably part of the story, so I'm not going to stop reading because I don't like it. Plot logic fails? Happens all the time. Mental illness and LGBT issues? Good luck liking the way those issues are portrayed, if it happens. Obscure words? SIGN ME UP. Dickens makes up the best stuff.

I'm just going to say it: I think having a dealbreaker for books is weird.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Peanut Butter & Jelly Reads

This is an interesting idea, and one that I've never come across before. PB&J refers to two books that are better when read together. I found the concept here at the Barnes & Nobles blog.

Sure there are books that are better read together. Like, all of the Harry Potter books. And The Hobbit with the Lord of The Rings trilogy. But what about books that aren't written together?

Fascinating! I guess that's what higher-level college courses do, throwing books into a curriculum that are, indeed, better when read together. That's the beauty of higher studies in English--it's enlightening to read Marx before diving into the commodity culture of Our Mutual Friend. 

But this concept did inspire me to tell you, oh vast interweb of lit lovers, to read Dickens' Oliver Twist right before diving into Sarah Waters' Fingersmith. It's my absolute favorite pairing and the novels I used for my grad school application paper.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Next Lifetime

So, I'm listening to The Hunger Games series on audiobook. I'm 1/3 into Catching Fire and this Peeta-Gale-Katniss thing is getting old. Where's the action?

Listening to Pandora at work, Erykah Badu's "Next Lifetime" came on and I immediately thought of their endless love triangle. Pick one, please, or die, or something, so I can stop judging your stupid adolescent indecision. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

I downloaded Jane Austen's Lady Susan for audiobook. It's one that I don't own, and one that I knew nothing about, so I was excited to check it out. It is a short, epistolary novel, early in Austen's life. 
     The story focuses on the shenanigans surrounding one Lady Susan Vernon: a scandalously flirtatious recent widow who spends her time conniving men (married and single) into thinking her a good woman and mother (of which she is neither). She is older, beautiful, witty, and charming. The women see through her lies and deceits and flattery, while the men in her presence fall prey to it.  
     It's an interesting set up. As a female character in that time period she must be despised for her immoral nature, but yet she is a very commanding persona that triumphs over typically-considered-stronger males. She is both the namesake and the "villain" of the story--she truthfully has no redeeming qualities. But Lady Susan is not the one strong female, however, since the other women see through her character. It is a novel where female characters are more intelligent and sensible than males. For me, it's the dominance of female characters that is most interesting, particularly for the period. Or perhaps it's just an apparent dominance; are there men who, upon closer examination, are better characters? 
     While I don't dislike the epistolary format, for this novel I find it hard to get a true sense of the character I want to know best: Frederica, her daughter. I also don't like that I cannot see the moments of Lady Susan's seduction (however, I enjoy her recounts in letters to her dear friend). 
     The tale is dark for Austen--terrible parenting and a somewhat rushed conclusion to the work. It's a very different read than any of her other works I have encountered. Yet it shows her range and it does not feel out of place within her works. 

As a final note, if I had my way: Kim Cattrall would be playing Lady Susan in some adaptation of the book. She's divinely perfect for the role. Jane Seymour would be a far second. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Digital Get Down

I've discovered audiobooks! Super late to the game, I realize. I listened to a Harry Potter on a drive some time in 2009, and then I selected Tess of the d'Urbervilles for the long drive to grad school in Lubbock, but that's really been my only encounters until now. I'm currently listening to a book I probably read in elementary school, and I'll have some things to say about it, so I'll wait until it's all done to tell you my humble beginnings. 

It's really quite interesting, this listening to books. A lot easier to fit in your day! But, I'll probably only listen to books I don't really want to blog about in-depth--you can't Post-It an audio file. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson

I was really excited when I first read that this book was coming out. I enjoyed the graphic novels I've previously read--especially the young adult ones in my college courses--and I thought this seemed like a fun classic to reconstruct. I also have extremely fond memories of my seventh grade teacher reading Madeline L'Engle's book out loud to our class. Her standing at the board illustrating the concept of a wrinkle in time is something I may never forget. 

But for all the fondness I feel for it, the graphic book didn't do much for me. I picked up the book and read it in an hour: the illustrated format and sparse text (well, I mean, less than the original novel, and less than the last graphic book I read, Watchmen) kind of let me get as into it as I wanted. And at 11 pm on some Sunday night, it would appear that I did not want to think too hard. 

I'd forgotten most of the characters, but not all. I remembered the controlling brain character, the dad, and the two siblings. The others were new again. The problem was that I didn't feel like I really established a connection with the characters. So nothing seemed that important to me.

 Two siblings. Missing dad. Weird boy at school. Instant best friends. Fairy godmother like beings. Other worlds. No surprise. Conquer all. Save the world. Blah blah blah. 

It seemed to easy for a story with such a potentially powerful moral. Then again, it's a YA book, so maybe that's okay. Maybe that's how the original was, too. Oh, the original, which I now, of course, want to reread and reassess. Just another book on the to do list, which is moving at about the pace of George R. R. Martin writing his Song of Fire and Ice books--painfully and annoying slow. 
Illustrating the wrinkle in time.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The most interesting thing about reading this book was how fleeting of a book club conversation it produced. For the first time two of my book clubs (like, the two most opposite book clubs on the planet) covered the same book. And each time it produced a pithy conversation that didn’t last. Each question we asked ended with limited discussion. Although there were definitely different opinions, there weren’t exactly points to argue on or expand the discussion. It was more of a “What’d you think of this?” with a flurry of responses. Then done.

So, what did we talk about? Each book club meeting kicked off with the ending. My first group liked the ending (they deserve each other) the second group liked it less. Personally, I wanted one or both of them to end up dead. 

Next we talked about whether Nick or Amy were more likable to us as the reader. The group of women said neither and the mixed group seemed to fall on Nick. It seems that the second group really preferred the book before you found out the twist, found out about Amy’s plan. I don’t know that I agree. I think I felt equally disinterested-but-compelled-to-find-out-the-details via either narration. Neither character was likable, which also kind of made the book hard to read. However, there were parts of Nick and Amy (er, Diary Amy) that I did identify with. 

I connected with Nick because of his job loss. I am also a magazine writer and editor, and while reading this book my large publishing company was going through layoffs. I understood so many of the things that defined Nick, whether that was his commentary on the industry, his questioning the world around him, or just some of the ways Amy talked about him. I had thought of it allto some degreeat some point, too. But my book wasn’t going to be War and Peace it was Anna Karenina and I was already diving into Twitter and other social media to become marketable.  

Passages about Nick:  
I'd arrived in New York in the late '90s, the last gasp of the glory days, although no one knew it then. New York was packed with writers, real writers, because there were magazines, real magazines, loads of them. This was back when the Internet was still some exotic pet kept in the corner of the publishing world-- throw some kibble at it, watch it dance on its little leash, oh quite cute, it definitely won't kill us in the night. Think about it: a time when newly graduated college kids could come to New York and get paid to write. We had no clue that we were embarking on careers that would vanish within a decade. I had a job for eleven years and then I didn't, it was that fast. All around the country, magazines began shuttering, succumbing to a sudden infection brought on by the busted economy. Writers (my kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people whose brains don't work quick enough to blog or link or tweet, basically old, stubborn blowhards) were through. We were like women's hat makers or buggy- whip manufacturers: Our time was done. (4-5)
This litany of crummy jobs. (69) 
It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is self derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can’t recall a single thing I have seen firsthand that I didn’t immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial. … I’ve literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can’t anymore. (72) 
I think that’s what it is, that it’s all happened at once, so I have the emotional bends. […] He makes a massive list of things he’s always meant to do...And then he starts on bigger stuff: He reads War and Peace. He flirts with taking Arabic lessons. He spends a lot of time trying to guess what skills will be marketable over the next few decades. (83)
Both groups agreed that Amy was the more interesting character, though. She was a brilliant, villainous mastermind that we were unsure why she was wasting all her talent on petty things like getting back at people. She was also the most inconsistent character. All of a sudden she decided he loved her so she loved him? How did she lose sight of everything, even for a brief time? Also, why did she EVER act the way she did and lose all her money to those two hicks? I know there’s "book" smart and "street" smart, but, damn, she should have both. One aside regarding Amy at both meetings was the idea that Amy felt so very relatable to women. I’m not sure that the older women in my first book club felt it as much, if they did they certainly were not as vocal, but the rest of us really felt connected to a lot of the ideas and things that Diary Amy talked about in regards to being a woman, dating, being single, and creating a relationship. A fact that real Amy would have loved and hated. 

Amy passages: 
I worry for a second that she wants to set us up: I am not interested in being set up. I need to be ambushed, caught unawares, like some sort of feral love- jackal. I'm too self-conscious otherwise. I feel myself trying to be charming, and then I realize I'm obviously trying to be charming, and then I try to be even more charming to make up for the fake charm, and then I've basically turned into Liza Minnelli: I'm dancing in tights and sequins, begging you to love me. There's a bowler and jazz hands and lots of teeth. (11) 
Give me a man with a little fight in him, a man who calls me on my bullshit. […] So I know I am right not to settle, but it doesn’t make me feel better as my friends pair off and I stay home on Friday night with a bottle of wine and make myself an extravagant meal and tell myself, This is perfect, as if I’m the one dating me. (29) 
I am happy not to be in that club. I don’t partake, I don’t get off on emotional coercion, on forcing Nick to play some happy-hubby role—the shrugging, cheerful, dutiful taking out the trash, honey! role. Every wife’s dream man, the counterpoint to every man’s fantasy of the sweet, hot, laid-back woman who loves sex and a stiff drink. (56)
Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving maner and let their men do whatever they want. (222) 
I’d waited patiently—years—for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, learn how to knit, pretend to love cosmos, organize scrapbook parties, and make out with each other while we leer. And then we’d say, “Yeah, he’s a Cool Guy.” But that never happened. … Pretty soon Cool Girl became the standard girl. … Every girl was supposed to be this girl, and if you weren’t, then there was something wrong with you. (223)
Other characters had brief turns. Tanner was a favorite character in my second book club, but I have to admit I don’t remember talking about him in the first group. The cops seemed shitty. Go was okay. At the first book club we spent a lot more time talking about just how creepy Desi was, and there was a definite sympathy for Amy in that position, even though everyone seemed to agree she deserved it. At the second meeting there was a dislike of Desi as a character, because he functioned more as a plot device than anything worthwhile. They also pointed out that Desi should have noticed how mutilated and bruised Amy was while he was busy keeping such tabs on her, and later kissing every inch of her body. Something like that, you think, would have stood out. Side note: I think in the movie he should be played by Javier Bardem.

There was also the quick whodunit conversation that each group had. As soon as someone asked, “Before you knew about Amy, who did you think did it?” A flurry of names and ideas and plots came out. Her parents. His dad. His sister. His girlfriend. Him. We all agreed we felt like we weren’t supposed to pick Nick because the book set him up so well, but it was hard not to wonder if he did it. No one really bought the Amy’s old friends/exes thing. Most people thought Amy was still alive, but didn’t get so far as to think that she had orchestrated the whole thing to make Nick look guilty.

We looked at portrayals of family and relationships, and each group agreed that there was no paragon that stood out against the rest. I didn’t get a sense that there was a right way and a wrong way to be a family or in a relationship—it seemed like it was all bad, so I don’t know what the commentary there would be. Stay single and avoid your family? Nick/Go and their mom seemed to have the best familial relationship. The award for best romantic relationship probably went to Tanner Bolt and his wife, and I don’t even remember much about them except that she was not white. Here’s a passage from Nick about his dad that I think is interesting because it actually has a slightly positive spin, perhaps because it’s about the father he invented.
… that after the divorce, I saw him so seldom that I decided to think of him as a character in a storybook. He was not my actual father—who would have loved me and spent time with me—but a benevolent and vaguely important figure named Mr. Brown, who was very busy doing very important things for the United States and who (very) occasionally used me as a cover to move more easily about town. (132) 
Feminism was brought up in the second club, but not at all in the first group (interesting, since that was the gathering of 10 women of various ages and life stages). I don’t know that we actually came up with any kind of theory—in fact, I know we didn’t—but it was still interesting. Where does this book fall in the grand scheme of feminism? Does this book really combat the stereotypical Lifetime movie? In a sense, yes, because the husband did not kill his wife, but he did cheat, and lie, and do a lot of other stuff that would look great in a Lifetime movie. And then there's the fact that Amy was (and there is no other way to say it) batshit crazy. So did she do anything to further the cause of the feminist? I don’t think so. I’m not sure what she did, and it’s an interesting theory to really explore (not one that I would dive into, because I don’t really do feminist critiques. I like talking about sex and nature).

We also talked a little about the construction. The diary format (one member noted that she didn’t even realize the chapters had titles related to time until a while into the book. I wonder if that’s part of reading on an e-reader, but I certainly did not miss that fact) was extremely effective and integral to the plot. I liked it. In its own way it was a big lesson on assuming authorial intent in writing—clearly what she wrote and what she thought were two very different things. Learn that lesson, young book nerds!

Nick was very aware of how he came off to the reader throughout the book. He talked to the reader, knowingly understanding his place with them.
I have a mistress. Now is the part where I have to tell you I have a mistress and you stop liking me. If you liked me to begin with. I have a pretty, young, very young mistress, and her name is Andie. (142) 
The older married man promptly exploited his position by launching a torrid fuckfest of an affair with one of his impressionable young students. I was the embodiment of every writer’s worst fear: a cliché. (145)
Amy had two personalities that the reader encountered, and she was very aware of both of those women as well.
I hope you liked Diary Amy. She was meant to be likable. Meant for someone like you to like her. She’s easy to like. I’ve never understood why that’s considered a compliment—that just anyone could like you. (237)
They have to read the diary like it’s some sort of Gothic tragedy. A wonderful, good-hearted woman—whole life ahead of her, everything going for her, whatever else they say about women who die—chooses the wrong mate and pays the ultimate price. They have to like me. Her. (238)

Finally, a little roundup of descriptive writing that I just adored in this book.

We’ll eat lobster with butter and have sex on the floor while a woman on one of our old jazz records sings to us in her far-side-of-the-tunnel voice. (40) 
But I do like a certain standard of living—I think it’s fair to say the garbage shouldn’t literally overflow, and the plates hsouldn’t sit in the sink for a week with smears of bean burrito dried on them. That’s just being a good grown-up roommate. (85) 
She had an unnecessarily loud voice, a bit of a bray, like some enchanted hot donkey. (94)
It was one of those big-smelling days, when people bring the outdoors in with them, the scent of rain on their sleeves, in their hair. (119)
I’d fallen in love with Amy because I was the ultimate Nick with her. Loving her made me superhuman, it made me feel alive. At her easiest, she was hard, because her brain was always working, working, working—I had to exert myself just to keep pace with her. I’d spend an hour crating a casual e-mail to her, I became a student of arcane so I could keep her interested: the Lake poets, the code duello, the French Revolution. Her mind was both wide and deep, and I got smarter being with her. (214) 
The woman’s entire music collection is formed from Pottery Barn compilations. (259) 
His cock is slick with conquest. (366)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy Anniversary Pride & Prejudice

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. 

There is a read-a-thon at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, as well as numerous other activities across the globe. [It's days like these where I miss college the most, knowing many of my English classes, and professors, would be celebrating in style.]

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I intend to read my Annotated Pride and Prejudice and make a post to this here blog. And I hope to rehash my undergrad lectures--women in literature, romance, british lit--and post something intelligent, not just a grouping of my favorite quotes. There is so much to say about this book: the woman who wrote it, the characters that evolved from it, and where it fits in education and literature.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit was first published in Sept 1937, and starting in 1951 changes in it were made to more closely align with The Lord of the Rings which he was writing. Changes continued into 1966, and the edition I read represents the closet to the final form, including Tolkien’s changes and corrections of misprints and errors (whatever that means. Apparently someone was playing Tolkien/god). Anyhoo, I was working with a 1994 printing.
          In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
One of the most recognizable opening lines to a book. It’s simple and unpretentious. It’s not making you feel anything. Think anything. Ask any questions. It’s not evoking feelings. It’s not setting you up for an epic tale. It simply is. And that, I think, is the perfect way to start this unexpected journey.
          This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is the story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing any saying things altogether unexpected. (page 3-4)
This is a favorite description of mine in the book. The Baggins people are a predictable people. They have money and they are straight-laced. But then one Baggins wasn’t. The description, both the writing and the content, are so matter-of-fact. 

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. The are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. (4)

Well, now we know we’re stupid and big, and that we, not any of the other folk in the story, are the intended audience. I’m sure somewhere there is a whole slew of theory about the intended audience of The Hobbit, and how this is written in a way that influences how we perceive ourselves and other races. What’s Tolkien saying about man? And about other races? That is something we discussed at book club, although it was so long ago I don’t remember the outcome of the conversation. but we did discussion race and morality and how each is perceived on that scale. Also, importantly, the idea of ancestry. Both ancestry and race would be interesting pursue as themes and motifs. Races and even individual people do not get treated equally throughout the book. One character, say, Thorin, may receive a lot of history, as may his race, while another character may receive none at all. 

I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone. (Gandalf)
I should think so – in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things.  (Bilbo) (6)

I just love this. It made me smile. I have nothing else to say on the matter.

He charged the ranks and knocked their king Golimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment. (17)

You clever man. I would like to know more about golf when Tolkien wrote this: Was it popular? New? Old? What caused him to throw this little bit in there, which the book could certainly do without. Also at book club we discussed the questionable intentions of Gandalf--both as a character toward other characters, and as a literary plot device. You kind of hate him, you know, disappearing at will and then showing up whenever he can save the day. Did he serve a larger purpose than to simply pull them out of bad situations and start the journey? I do not know. 

Now they rode away amid songs of farewell and good speed, with their hearts ready for more adventure … (51)


There were many paths that led up to into those mountains, and many passes over them. But most of the paths were cheats and deceptions and led nowhere or to bad ends; and most of the passes were infested by evil things and dreadful dangers. (52)

The an apt description for a lot of things in life. Kind of reminds me of the Bible verse: “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life; and those who find it are few.”

You know how terrific a really big thunderstorm can be down in the land and in a river-valley; especially at times when two great thunderstorms meet and clash. More terrible still are thunder and lightening in the mountains at night, when storms came up from East and West and make war. The lightning splinters on the peaks, and rocks shiver, and great clashes split the air and go rolling and tumbling into every cave and hollow; and the darkness is filled with overwhelming noise and sudden light. (53)

Another great, relatable description that explains something almost mundane, but in  vivid terms. Also, an interesting comparison between war and storms.

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something (or so Thorin said to the young dwarves). You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after. So it proved on this occasion.  (54)

Another truly Hobbit-like passage: Reading it you know it’s from this book, even if the part that names Thorin is removed. It’s so simple in thought and sentence construction.

The goblins began to sing, or croak, keeping time with the flap of their flat feet on the stone, and shaking their prisoners as well.
Clap! Snap! the black crack!
Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!
And down down to Goblin-town
You go, my lad! (56)

“Murders and elf-friends!” the Great Goblin shouted. “Slash them! Beat them! Bite them! Gnash them! Take them away to dark holes full of snakes, and never let them see the light again!” (60)

Lit nerd moment: totally geeked when I read these passages because they are very reminiscent of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market which is one of my favorite poems and pieces of Victorian literature.

Although I did not take the time to type out the passage, page 67 has the introduction to Gollum. Who, after experiencing in LOTR, was very interesting to meet for the first time, per se. 

“If ever you are passing my way,” said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time.” (262)

Such a different song he was singing than the beginning of the book, but an old-yet-new Bilbo offer indeed.

You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all! (272)

Great thought to end on. Hope everyone gets a chance to read this at some point in life—it’s quick and easy, so there’s no excuse not to!