Friday, March 27, 2015

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I'm surprised at my past review of Northanger Abbey. I can't believe I didn't really flag any quotes! What a loss, because this book was full of them, my favorite being, "If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad." 

The image I've picked to run with the old review is the latest copy of the book I purchased from the British Library after seeing the exhibit: Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination. It was a delightful look at the fascinating, influential genre.

I generally like reading Jane Austen. Okay, love reading a JA book. I just finished Northanger Abbey and I'm not sure how I feel about it. It was certainly an easy read, and one that kept me motivated enough to finish it in just a couple days. But it didn't seem like there was much to the story. At all. This is where I miss being in English courses: some professor would bust out a bunch of awesome facts or theories or what have you, and I'd be totally into it. Reading for enjoyment, however, it's not the best book I've ever read.

Naturally, though, I have to give Austen some props. Her satirical writing style and development of characters is as amazing as always. She wrote characters that made me squirm with uncomfortableness. John Thorpe is a complete self-centered ass and Catherine Morland is terribly imaginative and curious to an annoying fault. When it comes to relationships and friendships, Austen rather accurately portrays what still happens today. Friendships take a back seat to relationships, and lots of conniving, flattery, and peacocking happen while it all gets worked out.

This novel also presents the question: Is the narrator the author? Truthfully, I do not know if Austen intended the story's narrator to be herself. She may have, and it may be a well-known fact. However, I don't know the answer, and so I must, at default, consider the author and the narrator two different beings. But, in this book, it's very hard not to conflate the two. Rather than simply a narrator, the narrator claims to be the author of the story as well. This person (which by default also, I assume to be female) interjects often, even when she does not directly reference herself with an "I." For example, "A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thin, should conceal it as well as she can" (104). This is not a statement of any character, but merely the narrator's commentary on the subject. Again, very hard not to see Austen in that statement. Other times, the narrator/author is more direct with referencing herself. "And now I may dismiss my heroine to the sleepless couch, which is the true heroine's portion; to a pillow strewed with thorns and with wet tears" (83). Oh how dramatic of this narrator/author! Perfectly fitting the novel's structure as a gothic parody.

In terms of gothic parody, Radcliffe and the Mysteries of Udolpho are mentioned multiple times. My main wish is that I had read that story, and others like it, in order to properly appreciate the references and parodies that Austen set. I wonder how Radcliffe reacted to this novel. I just wish I could time travel and get a good feel for the climate at the time.

One final note: Let's huzzah for the fact that this is a book by a shamefully famous female author, which parodies the work of a female author who piloted the gothic novel movement. Ladies making their way in the 1700s and 1800s. Huzzah!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Women's History Month Reading List

A friend sent me the link to this reading list for Women's History Month. I've never even considered reading to fit the theme of this month (although Black History Month was something I always thought should be influencing my reading), so it's great someone clued me in! Does it count that I'm reading Little Women? That doesn't seem too far fetched of a WHM pick.

This list has 30 books to read, either to encourage you to quit life and read one a day, or in case, like me, you've read a couple. I've read four, to be exact, and I doubt I read the full Year of Magical Thinking. On this list, I'm most interested in Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. She is the author of Fingersmith, another sexy little neo-Victorian book focused on the ladies. I've wanted to read more of her stuff since college. My next interest is Eleanor Catton's New Zealand mystery, The Luminaries. It's almost 900 pages and the author is young and smart and awesome, so I'm sold.

Added them both to my Goodreads... for next WHM.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Academic Endeavors in Literature

I recently came across a lot of papers I'd saved from high school and college classes, and I took note of a few of the books I read. College is probably less worth noting, since it's so specific to class interests, but I do find the high school list interesting. I feel like I had such a different experience than some of the people I went to high school with, not to mention people in other areas. I mean, I didn't even read Price & Prejudice? I did my best guessing on how to properly identify the works, italicizing and putting in quotations, but I admit I don't know that they're correct. Also, this definitely isn't a complete list. Like, I really think I read Great Expectations in high school, and there are a whole library of books missing because I didn't find info on my YA class and others from college and grad school.

High School English
-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
-Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
-A Separate Peace by John Knowles
-"A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry
-Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
-Lord of The Flies by William Golding
-My Antonia by Willa Cather
-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
-"Othello," "Macbeth," "Henry V" "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Taming of the Shrew," "Hamlet," "Romeo & Juliet"
-Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
-"A Visit of Charity" by Eudora Welty
- "A woman on a roof" by Doris Lessing
- "The Five Fourty Eight" by John Cheever
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- "Birches" by Robert Frost
- "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
College Women and Literature
-"Oroonoko" by Aphra Behn
-Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
-A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
-Beloved by Toni Morrison
-Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
-"A Room of One’s Own" Virginia Woolf
College The British Novel in the 19th Century
-Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
-Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
-Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
-The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
-Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
-Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
-Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
-The Rebel of the Family by Eliza Lynn Linton
 College Kinship and Class in 19th Century Britain
-The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins
-Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
-Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
-Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli.
-Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
-Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell


Saturday, March 21, 2015

On Poetry in the Norton Anthology of English Literature

Today is World Poetry Day, so in its honor I resurrect this post on poetry I was reading in 2009.

I did a lot of studying for the Subject GRE in English. A lot. I read (okay, mostly skimmed) over 6,000 pages of works by English authors. The whole GRE experience was nuts, but reading centuries of poetry was enlightening. I'd go so far to say it was even FUN sometimes. Sometimes. 

Writers are brilliant. Plain and simple. Here's a sampling of what I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, from Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume One.

Astrophil and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney
Come sleep! O sleep the certain knot of peace,
the baiting place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man’s wealth; the prisoner’s release,
Th’ indifferent judge between the high and low;
--Isn't it true? Everyone sleeps! Rich, poor, high class, low class, old and young? I love the depiction of sleep as an equalizer.

To Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
You may forever tarry.
--Hell yeah, you supposedly prudish 17th-Century poet. Use those four stanzas to encourage promiscuity!

Upon the Nipples of Julia's Breast by Robert Herrick
He devotes the poem to his lover Julia's nipples. Ultimate compliment? My favorite metaphor for nipples: "strawberries half-drowned in cream."

The Imperfect Enjoyment by John Wilmot
Although the title doesn't give it all away up front, this poem is all about male impotence. HA. Okay, sorry. Who would ever write about that now? Best metaphor: " the all-dissolving thunderbolt below."

The Disappointment by Aphra Behn
This poem was Aphra Behn's response to The Imperfect Enjoyment. HAHA again. Love it. There was a big battle of the sexes going on in this period.

The Lady's Dressing Room by Jonathan Swift
You may recognize the name Jonathan Swift, for he is the author of the lovely "Gulliver's Travels." Anyhoo, he wrote this poem, and reading the title you wouldn't expect it to be what it is: a revelation that a woman's dressing room is a pigsty and that she is not all sparkles and rainbows. Here, a man is invited into his lover's dressing room where he discovers that she, in fact, releases excrement: "Repeating in his amorous fits/ Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!" Looks like that girls-don't-poop mentality goes way back.

John Gay's Epitaph
Life is a jest, and all things show it;
I thought so once, but now I know it.
--Love it! Just love it.

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson
Johnson writes of the source of discontent in basic human nature: "the hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life" and which lures us to "listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope." Amazing. I never knew words could accurately describe this.

The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa

Back in January of 2010--time out while I wonder how FIVE YEARS have passed since then--I posted about this unsuspecting little read, Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard. I say unsuspecting because, although I seemed to find it slow moving and a little hard to read, this book sticks with me as one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read (and I actually don't remember the plot any more). It's one of those books that I suggest when people are looking for something new/different to read. Again, why I do that, since below I mention it being a book only lit majors could love, I have no idea. But it left a strong impression that's lasted half a decade.

"Set in the 1860s, The Leopard tells the spellbinding story of a decadent, dying Sicilian aristocracy..." That's how the back cover of the begins the summary. But I have to say, I'm not sure I think 'tells' is the appropriate verb, for multiple reasons. For one, the story isn't complete. The time from May 1860 through May 1910 is covered. That's a lot of time, for not a lot of pages, and as a result many things are not told. Secondly, the story is very slow moving. I think only English majors or major literature fans could make it through this novel. The actual plot movement felt minimal. Pages of description or tangents accompanied one major movement or revelation. [Some of this could be due to the translation of the novel from Italian to English (I think).]

But the prose is amazing--the word choice and descriptions are indulgent. For anyone who appreciates the setting, the scenery, the little bits and pieces of literature that aren't simply character development or plot motivation--this book is beguiling. I love the attention to detail, the almost dramatic but still carefree way things are described, the words and the imagery. It's a sensual read for word lovers.

"The half hour between Rosary and dinner was one of the least irritating moments of his day, and for hours beforehand he would savior its rather uncertain calm." 9

"The two telescopes and three lenses were lying there quietly, dazed by the sun, with black pads over the eyepieces, like well-trained animals who knew their meal was given them only at night." 37

"The comets would be appearing as usual, punctual to the minute, in sight of whoever was observing them." 40

"He drained his wine in a single gulp. The initials F.D. which before had stood out clearly on the golden color of the full glass were no longer visible." 43

"Tancredi, in an attempt to link gallantry and greed, tried to imagine himself tasting, in the aromatic forkfuls, the kisses of his neighbor Angelica, but he realized at once that the experiment was disgusting and suspended it, with a mental reservation about reviving this fantasy with the pudding." 80

"...and he rejoiced at this decision of Tancredi's which would assure him an ephemeral carnal satisfaction and a perennial financial peace." 98

"The thought occurred to Don Fabrizio that it was ignorance of this supreme consolation that made the young feel sorrows much more sharply than the old; the latter are nearer the safety exit." 229

Also, the author addresses and writes dying in a way that is meaningful, simple, and wonderful to read. I don't want to say too much in case you read it, but when I go, I hope it's like this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

L&L: The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy

For an Irish Lit class, I read J. P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man. That book definitely lingered. It's a perfect post for Saint Patrick's Day, where Irish Americans are more rambunctious than anyone else.

- Sebastian Dangerfield is entirely despicable.

- The character's thoughts and actions are random and sporadic, like the book's storytelling. It's obscene and appalling, and yet also hilarious. Maybe it's a bit of an uncomfortable humor.

- It's bizarre. I think everyone should read it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

When I picked up Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train for book club, I was amazed to find myself so invested in the story that I couldn't put it down! I actually read the book in one morning. Easy to do, since it isn't too long and the pages aren't all full of text.

It was the format of the plot that made The Girl on the Train so bingeworthy. The book was compared to Gone Girl when we selected it, and I couldn't agree more. Who's the bad guy? Who's telling the truth? We're getting Anna's POV now, holy cow! Unlike GG, I didn't constantly try to solve the book, I just wanted to read until it was revealed to me. I can't even claim to have figured it out until it was so clear that I couldn't miss it. I love when a book can keep you guessing without interrupting the flow of reading.

Also, I like that this book is a bit realer than Gone Girl. The people are so bad, and so creepy, because they're in real-life, believable settings. It's scary, and as a woman I felt like it's easier than I would like to think to end up in a relationship with one or all of those problems.

Who would I like to see in the movie roles? That's a question I anticipate coming up at the book club meeting for sure.

Rachel: Jennifer Lawrence or Kristen Bell    Megan: Hannah Simone    Anna: Felicity Jones
Tom: Andrew Scott      Scott: Chris Pratt     Therapist: Satya Bhabha

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

 A full-blown classic! I'm so glad I came across my 2010 review of The Woman in White. I gave myself the task of reading four more classics this year, and I've managed to read one (and listen to a lot) but this is just the post I needed to motivate me again. Proof that the classics are so good. Also, I just have to point out that in my brief graduate school stint at Texas Tech, I proofread the computer renderings of this work's original serialization in All The Year Round. It was epic.

My most recent accomplishment in the world of literature is Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. Seriously amazing. It's full of beautifully crafted characters, mystery, suspense, humor, and an incredibly tantalizing plot that you don't get to the bottom of until the very end of the book.


Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book. All of them are brilliantly stated, most are hilarious thoughts.

I had just enough to do, in mounting my employer's drawings, to keep my hands and eyes pleasurably employed, while my mind was left free to enjoy the luxury of its own unbridled thoughts. A perilous solitude, for it lasted long enough to enervate, not long enough to fortify me. (64)
Strange to say, the whimsical little brute falsified my expectations by jumping into my lap, and poking its sharp muzzle familiarly into my hand the moment I sat down. (141) 
Nothing, in my opinion, sets the odious selfishness of mankind in such a repulsively vivid light, as the treatment, in all classes of society, which the Single people receive at the hands of the Married people. When you have once shown yourself too considerate and self-denying to add a family of your own to an already overcrowded population, you are vindictively marked out by your married friends, who have no similar consideration and no similar self-denial, as the recipient of half their conjugal troubles, and the born friend of all their children. Husbands and wives talk of the cares of matrimony; and bachelors and spinsters bear them. (345) 
All the woman flushed up in Marian's face as I spoke. (450)
I actually was a bit offended by that. All the woman? Guys don't blush? If it's not blush, what is the "woman" then?
I asked myself that question, as I passed through the clean desolation, the neat ugliness, the prim torpor of the streets of Welmingham. (483)
Love the contrast between the adjectives and nouns.
I was born with the tastes of a lady; and he gratified them. In other words, he admired me, and he made me presents. No woman can resist admiration and presents--especially presents, provided they happen to be just the things she wants. He was sharp enough to know that--most men are. Naturally, he wanted something in return--all men do. (529)

My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody. (540)
Damn straight. I actually laughed out loud.

The best men are not consistent in good--why should the worst men be consistent in evil? (547)

We both wanted money. Immense necessity! Universal want! Is there a civilized human being who does not feel for us? How insensible must that man be! Or how rich! (599) That "universal want" brought me back to the opening of Pride and Prejudice...

I was stunned. Meditate on that. Fosco stunned! (609)

Monday, March 2, 2015

L&L: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

After thoroughly enjoying Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, I was glad to download the audiobook of The Age of Innocence.

- I spent the whole book thinking Newland Archer was being duped by the Countess Olenska. I actively distrusted her, and I was totally team Archer. Boy was I wrong.

-I thought a lot of Fitzgerald's "beautiful little fool" whenever we encountered May. I pitied her and judged her for being so blind. Yet again, I was super wrong. She ultimately controlled the story. Get it, girl. You keep yo' man. Also, her eyes, they have to be some kind of theme within the story.

-I loved the conclusion! There was something satisfying about seeing so far into the future, even if the actual ending was perhaps anticlimactic. Archer's son was a nice portrait of the new generation.