A Marvelous Trio of Books

This summer has been super duper cool, temperature wise, and therefore a great time for reading some non-academic tomes. I also finally got a library card to my new library — Patrick and I went to check it out one day.  He had a little trouble with the quiet part, but shelves and shelves of books?  He was sold.  And the best part is I finally figured out how to get library books on my Kindle!  2004 here I come!

So I first checked out Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  The creepy cover got me interested, but having the author stand behind us in a line at the LA Times Book Festival got me even more intrigued.  You mean he’s a real person?!?!?  Yes, a real person with a fabulous kate spade typewriter satchel.  The story was fantastic, and definitely one that did give me pause to read right before bedtime. The monsters in this one, and the heroes too for that matter, are skin-crawly creepy sometimes.  There are pictures, real pictures, all throughout the book which fit with the story or reveal things about the plot or characters, or sometimes just creep you out.  The macabre in me really enjoyed this book, and I’ll definitely check out the second one when it comes out.

I was way behind the curve on the next book, but I am so glad I read it.  When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead takes its inspiration from A Wrinkle in Time, and I still have vivid memories of the Children’s Theater adaptation from the early 90s.  Now when I read young adult novels, I really get interested in the parent characters — go figure, right?  Miranda’s mom and her soon-to-be step-dad were excellent, and the little glimpses we got of Annemarie’s dad made me want to know her family more.  I guess it’s only natural that as I grow older, I’m more interested in the hesitance towards commitment in Miranda’s mom than I am in the difficulties the kids themselves are having at school.

The third in my trio was A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, and wow.  Heavy, dark, and excellent.  While dealing with his mother’s illness and impending death, the adolescent main character “accidentally” calls a monster to help him.  The grieving the protagonist goes through is realistic — messy, confusing, heartbreaking.  And the illustrations reminded me of the ones from Scary Stories to Read in the Dark…so, pretty creepy also.  But this book made me cry in the end, and not because of anything sappy.  Unexpected from the cover art.

All three books gave me little thrills and chills — shimmy shivers, as I call them.  There were moments for each of them when I was a little afraid to get up in the night, and when for sure I didn’t want to brave the walk up to the marina bathrooms after dark.  Shimmy shivers.  But they all had strong main characters that I could really feel for, and get involved with, which is just the kind of release and literary relationship I’m looking for in a summer read.  I recommend them all, if you’re in the market for a summer read that will help you work some emotions out and release some pent-up stress with good thought and deep feelings.

Since I haven’t written in a while, here are some of the other books I read this spring with abridged reviews.  They each deserve their own feature-length extravaganza, but the books keep coming, and any specific thoughts I had about them are a little lost in the haze.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson — amazing supernatural/religious/sci-fi mash-up with great twists!  Put it on your list!

Broken Harbor by Tana French — I loved French’s first two books, the third was too similar to the others, and this fourth one was void of surprise and overtly gruesome.

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman — LOVE!  Can we get more stories from the American Gods world, please?  Please?

Villette by Charlotte Bronte — This book changed my thinking.  Whatever was going on with those Bronte sisters, man, they made it happen.  I assume this one takes the back seat to Jane Eyre because the ending is…unexpected, but I think that maybe… … MAYBE… … I liked this one better than Jane Eyre.  Read it.  Do it now.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente — Fun, but I think it would have been much more meaningful to me if I knew more about Russian mythology or fairy tales.  I was able to figure out who some characters were, but ultimately, I was an outsider on the inside jokes here.

Catching up – Quips!

I am alive!  Who would have guessed it?  Not anyone reading this blog.  You would have thought I had finally nailed myself into a coffin with my worsted weight noose, but NO!  I am still here!  I am still knitting and reading, but with this PhD program, suddenly writing isn’t something I really want to do in my spare time anymore.  Which is a pity.  So we’ll have ourselves a little catch-up post here, and then maybe I can keep a little better track of things after that.

So last you heard, I had read The Beautiful and the Damned and it was a stirring experience.  After that, I figured it was time for some comfort food…book style.  So I used the power of my Kindle to find all those wonderful little Arthurian romance/legend novels I loved so much.  I read Persia Woolley’s Guinevere Trilogy, which is a long time favorite of mine.  I found the third book at a library book sale back in late middle school.  The cover was SUPER romance novelly — Guinevere sitting on a throne with billowing red hair, an look of defiance, and full, painted lips with a brilliant velvet dress spilling onto the floor around her.  It was definitely a cover I was embarrassed to be seen with — I think I read most of it at home.  But you know the old saying…regardless of the crazy artwork, the third book is fantastic — the fall of Camelot, with relate-able characters who I really grew to love.   Eventually, I went back to the library and found the first two books, which were fun, too, but the third one takes the cake.  Rereading them again after so many years was comforting and provided a fantastic escape from the stress of starting my graduate education.

I also struck out on new Arthurian territory, with a book called Gawain and Lady Green by Anne Eliot Crompton.  The author has also written an excellent and unique Arthurian legend called Merlin’s Harp, which I devoured in high school.  Merlin’s Harp is a feminist retelling through the eyes of Nimue, but it isn’t easily recognizable as the Arthurian tale.  Not at first.  The main character only hops in on the tale we’re all familiar with every now and then.  Gawain and Lady Green is, as you English majors out there might expect, a retelling of Gawain and the Green Knight.  It’s cute, and also comfort-foody, and unique again — if you don’t know the story of Gawain, you might not recognize the novel for what it is.  But I’m not sure you can only enjoy it if you know the story…I could see many a young adult enjoying this book simply for itself.

I also received a book from meine Mutti-in-law, called Bringing Up Bebe — One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman.  HIGHLY recommend!  Especially if you’ve ever been weirded out by the stress American culture brings into parenting.  If you’ve ever stumbled upon the kind of crazy that only we Americans can come up with on Facebook or blogs — fatwa on [insert trend here], why aren’t you afraid of this?  don’t you realize how your child’s life will be RUINED if they do thing x? — then you know what I mean.  This book is the perfect remedy.  It helped me breath a sigh of relief, that we weren’t raising Patrick like a weirdo — we were kind of raising him like a little Frenchman.  Which he is, to a certain percentage point.  The section on food is fantastic.  I wish I could enroll in a creche and eat like that — amazing.  A really fun read that helped me feel like I wasn’t the only one who thought our society’s expectation that being a mother = living in a constant state of freak-out is a bogus expectation.

Devil’s Advocate: Obviously, if you’re not freaking out, you’re not paying attention.  Am I right, America?!?  Who’s with me?!?  Let’s be sure to stress ourselves out about every feature of our child’s life, because if we don’t, then mass ax-murdering is CERTAINLY in their future.  (Did I conjugate that correctly?)

Then, Christmas rolled around, and I got a couple books for the jolly holiday!  The first one I read was from Drew, a T.C. Boyle novel that took place in our new home.  It’s called When the Killing’s Done and it was excellent.  By far the best of his novels I’ve read.  Subtle themes that progressed as the plot unfolded, characters who were true to themselves throughout, and realistic to boot.  Really excellent.  A literary treat, after all my Arthur comfort diving.  It also takes place in …drumroll… the Channel Islands National Park!  Right across the ocean from us!  And parts of it take place in our HOME — Ventura, Oxnard, Santa Barbara, Ojai — so fun!  Nothing like a book based on where you live to make you feel special.  Of course, almost all the boats in it sink to the bottom of the sea, and it does live up to it’s title, but…it’s still kind of a trip.

Let’s start with that for now.  I’ve got three more books to add, plus the one I am currently reading.  But I think if I don’t publish this post now, it may be the end of poor little Knitquip: the blog.  And I can’t have that.  PUBLISH!

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Ahh, Persuasion.  This is my favorite Jane Austen novel, and for good reason.  It is so mature, and so…perfect.  I read this one in high school, and, when I recently decided to read it again, I couldn’t quite remember what is was about…but I remembered staying up nights to finish it, something I usually reserved for the Bronte books in high school.  The reread did not disappoint.  In fact, I think I enjoyed it more now than I did then.   I fell in love with Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth a little more this time…their slow joining is so wonderful.  I read the last pages about three extra times, from Frederick’s romantic and impassioned letter to their exclamations of love for each other.

But really what I love best about this book is how mature their love is.  They are both older — they know what they have missed these past 8 years since their estrangement.  When they finally are able to reveal their feelings for each other, they immediately seem like husband and wife — no overly gushing scenes, no teasing or playing.  There is something so real about it…I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is wonderful.

And the MOVIE!  After I finished, we watched the 1995 version.  Perfect!  Apparently there’s another more recent version that Austen-internet-groupies seem to love.  As long as it doesn’t have Keira Knightley in it, I’ll check that one out too.

The minor characters are delightfully wicked, and I cheered for Anne and Frederick at the end, as they put aside the fruitless “persuasions” of the world around them and followed their hearts.  Sounds corny as I describe it in a lacking summary here, but not in the hands of Austen.

Also, now I’m excited to make the Sweater for Anne and the Sweater for Frederick from Interweave Knits!  They’ve started putting out a fabulous new knitting pattern magazine called Jane Austen Knits — all of the patterns are based on characters from her novels or inspired by the events.  The two sweaters are pictured here — and although these models look bored and a bit sullen, I’m sure Drew and I will be smiling when we wear them.  No word on when I’ll get to that yet, but as soon as I can persuade myself to purchase some yarn, they’ll be made.  Probably…in 8 years?

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Aah, the comfort-food book.  I never read this one as a kid, but it is such a down-pillow of a book.  I didn’t feel any need to rush through it, because it seemed pretty clear what was eventually going to happen to poor little Sara Crewe.  I could take my time, one chapter, then a night off, straight to sleep, then maybe just half a chapter, and so on.  But while I was reading this book, it just gave me that comforting feeling — the kind you can only get from a story that is predictable, sweet, and still interesting or home cooked mac and cheese.

I loved The Secret Garden when I was younger, and this book is much the same — childhood in India, loving parent, suddenly orphaned, a girl in search of mystery and family connections — it’s sweet.  Sweet is the best word.

This was another of my read-it-or-lose-it books as we prepare for our move.  After finishing it, I think we’ll keep it around.  It will be a great read with Patrick when he’s older — perfect bedtime reading.

I had a moment in the book, when Sara befriends a rat who lives in her room, when I thought something horrible was going to happen to either the rat or her sparrow friend — but there was no need to fear.  It’s not that kind of book, and I’d just been watching too much Luther.

 

Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett

Ah, dreams.  The kind of things that keep you up nights, wondering about the future, fantasizing about the excellent romanticism that awaits you, and of course, panicking about what possible eventualities you may not have planned for.  With the boat now purchased and ready to move on to soon, it seemed a good time to finally read this book — Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett.  My mom gave it to me years ago, and Drew read it right then.  I’ve been kind of waiting for the right moment, and this was definitely it

A couple bought a castle for like a nickel and a wish in Wales.  The castle, Gwydir Castle, was falling apart, roofs caving in, gardens in disarray, bats inhabiting — but they set about fixing it up to restore it to its former glory.  The book takes us through their first year or so of work on the castle as they live in it while trying to repair it.  It’s a very sweet retelling of their story, filled with lots of luck and love — kind of a romantic and Romantic tale.  They run a little bed and breakfast out of it now, along with hosting weddings, which you can check out on their website here.

I’d classify this as a great summer read, or a wonderful “beach read.”  SO, since this book was passed along to me with the intention that I would pass it on when I was done reading it, I’ll put it up for grabs right now.  First to put forth their nickel and a wish gets it!

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

As we’re trying to think ahead to the future of a small space, I’m combing through all of our books (of which there are many) and reading as many of them as I can rather than branching out too much right now.  It’s possible that many of my little literary friends, which have for so long sat and watched from a shelf will be stored in a box for four years, and so I’m going to give as many of them as I can one last good read (or, in some cases, a first good read) before packing them away for the forseeable future.  Gosh — Debbie Downer all of a sudden.

I feel like I read The Hobbit at some point in my young life.  I feel like it, but now having read it either again or for the first time, I’m not sure I ever did.  Perhaps my maternal unit will read this post and can let me know if we ever actually read it together — we read books together at bedtime until I was in late middle school.  It was the best way to end the day — me and Mom, squashed together on my little twin bed, taking turns reading chapters of Lizard Music or maybe Buffalo Brenda.  Patrick and Drew and I end each day the same way now, and it’s so fun — books and bedtime just go together.

I knew the story — well, at least the basics.  I VIVIDLY remember the amazing adaptation at the Children’s Theater in MN when I was younger.  Smaug took up half the stage, but it was so dark, he was only a shimmering outline of jewels.  And I remembered the dwarves and all their wonderful rhyming names.  But as I read it, there were so many parts to the story that I feel certain I would have remembered if I had read it before.  Beorn?  How could I have forgotten a character like Beorn?

I do love Tolkien’s way of understated drama, making it seem only as treacherous as you, the reader, are willing to make it in your own imagination.  He has a gift for touching scenes of brevity as well.  When Bilbo and Thorin speak for the last time, it did tear me up a bit — he’s got a knack for really making you feel the sorrow in a moment with very few words.  I read back over the section a few times, but couldn’t really pinpoint exactly what he said that made me so emotional — it was just there somehow, in the words.

Whether a read or a reread, I really enjoyed it.  At this stressful time, when so many things are changing for us (albeit for the positive!), it was soothing to read just a chapter a night — just like with Mom — and think about Bilbo and his adventure that was only an adventure after it was finished.  So much more calming to think about someone else’s difficulties and tribulations than to consider your own right before sleep. And I do love the hobbits.  Their world view is one to strive for.

And who can possibly wait until December for the movie?!?  Martin Freeman?  Yes!  Ian McKellan, back again?  Double yes!

And of course!  I did remember the trolls!

Walking to Canterbury by John Ellis

Way back when, or, as Spinal Tap would say, “before the dawn of history,” I fulfilled the author study component of my English degree with an Interim class on Chaucer.  I had read bits and pieces of The Canterbury Tales in my survey courses, but I was unprepared for the diligence required when reading in Middle English, but that was tempered by the bawdy, hidden humor of Chaucer’s poetry.  The professor was extremely influential to me, academically and otherwise — she was the kind of woman I continue to aspire to be.  There were only 9 of us in the class, all girls, and our fearless leader helped us to understand Chaucer through the lens of a medievalist.

So a few months after the class, I was spending a lazy moment perusing through the St. Olaf Bookstore, when I came upon this book, Walking to Canterbury by Jerry Ellis.  I didn’t know the author’s name, but after being captivated by the ideals of pilgrimage, I was curious to see what kind of person would try this — a walk from London to Canterbury — in our modern times.

For those of you that don’t know, Canterbury Cathedral is the location where Saint Thomas Becket was murdered by four knights, mistakenly sent by the king, his old friend, Henry II.  After the knights killed Becket, he was declared a martyr and many (thousands? millions, maybe?) made pilgrimages to the place of his martyrdom.  This eventually led to Geoffrey Chaucer writing The Canterbury Tales, a story in which a group of pilgrims are traveling to Canterbury from London, and they each tell a tale along the way.  Enter our intrepid author who decided to make this pilgrimage himself in 1999.

Apparently, I wasn’t as curious as I thought.  I bought the book.  It waited on my shelf through graduation, through my wedding, through two years of teaching in MN, made the move in a cardboard box to Las Vegas, waited on a bookshelf in first one apartment, then a house, where it languished gathering dust for 5 more years, never touched.  I couldn’t ever bring myself to give it away, thinking, “But I AM going to read it someday…” so it would travel with us, making its own mini-pilgrimages from state to state, abode to abode, just biding its time.

Finally, this summer, when we sold the house and moved into another apartment, I had to decide.  Was I actually going to read this book?  Ever?  Or should I pass it along to another reader at my local library?  I decided to give it ONE MORE shot, and moved with the book again, this time promising myself (and the poor book) that I would read it before the next adventure.

And I did!  Promise fulfilled!  It’s probably best, actually, that I waited, because Ellis spends quite a substantial amount of his musing time musing about what life was like in Chaucer’s England.  Lots and lots and LOTS of paragraphs begin with something like this… “Handguns did not exist in the middle ages…” and then he goes on for a few pages on the types of weaponry used in the middle ages, and how the pilgrims might have protected themselves on the journey.  His transitions from narrative to history are weak and nascent — which I didn’t appreciatee now, but would have appreciated FAR less just coming off an extensive month-long study of an author from the time period.

However, what he lacked in eloquent weaving of prose, he made up for in philosophical ruminations.  Part Cherokee, Ellis is constantly discussing his Native American teachings and finding connections with all the people he meets on his trip.  It gets a little “bubble-gum” at times — too much about how we are all brothers, and the past pilgrims on this journey are just like his ancestors, which is true, but he never quite says it honestly enough for me to really FEEL it — but then he has moments of clarity about the time we live in that really strike home:

Often in debt up to our necks and working at jobs that we don’t truly love, we have become modern-day serfs, bowing to a lord whose face we can’t quite see there in the shadows between paychecks.  we just know down in our guts and hearts that something isn’t right, and we dare not talk about it too openly for fear it will become more real than we can dare bear.

That gets to the heart of it, doesn’t it?  Honesty — dark and brutal like that — is what makes me feel a connection to the medieval soul — we have not come as far as we’d like to think.  There is so much beauty in the world, in our lives, and STILL, we are not given enough opportunities to worship, to contemplate, to consider what our lives really mean.

Okay — I’ll back off now.  It was a good read, but I think now its next journey is upon it.  Time for a new adventure, book!  Off to your next reader!  Hopefully they won’t keep you waiting as long as I did.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Years ago, I read To Say Nothing of the Dog and loved it.  I knew there were references flying past me at every page turn that I had no knowledge of, but it didn’t matter.  The book was just fun.  A romantic blend of sci-fi with all the Victorian era aplomb one could every want or need — no need for reference catching.  I just enjoyed this story of two historians trapped in time, the man dashing in his boater, the woman described as a naiad out of a Waterhouse painting. I’m a little in love with both of them.

But the whole book — including the title — was written in homage to the Victorian book, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome.  First of all — awesome name.  Second of all — I had to finally read the mother of all references.  Nancy Pearl, who I used to follow with regularity before she quasi-retired, is always going on and on about what a funny book it is.  And it is funny.  Allow me to illustrate:

The narrator when trying to decide whether to partake of a trip down(up?) the Thames with his two other natty friends: It is a curious fact, but nobody ever is sea-sick on land.  At sea, you come across plenty of people very bad indeed, whole boat-loads of them; but I never met a man yet, on land, who had ever known at all what it was to be sea-sick.  Where the thousands upon thousands of bad sailors that swarm in every ship hide themselves when they are on land is a mystery.

The narrator when his friend has slept in too late on their first morning of travel: There was George, throwing away in hideous sloth the inestimable gift of time; his valuable life, every second of which he would have to account for hereafter, passing away from him, unused.  He might have been up stuffing himself with eggs and bacon, irritating the dog, or flirting with the slavey, instead sprawling there, sunk in soul-clogging oblivion.

Simple observation: But who wants to be foretold the weather?  It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.

And, our narrator on a lunch gone wrong: It cast a gloom over the boat, there being no mustard.  We ate our beef in silence.  Existence seemed hollow and uninteresting.  we thought of the happy days of childhood, and sighed.

The whole book was just a wonderful daydream into a time where gentlemen of a certain destiny did not work, did not worry, just boated with friends and reflected thereupon — like a Jeeves and Wooster novel, without all the hijinks.

So as soon as I finished the book, I knew I had to reread To Say Nothing of the Dog.  And it was not a disappointment — all the more funny, now that I understood most of the references.  And now, with teh interweb in full swing, any reference I didn’t know, I could just google.  Or Lougle (your own reference to check).  Ned Henry, our hero, was all the more dashing because I now knew about his favorite book.  Verity Kindle, our heroine, was all the more lovely and serene now that I knew who she was constantly being compared to.

Always good to reread.  Always good to revisit.  Placet.

 

King, Kaiser, Tsar by Catrine Clay

SPOILER ALERT!!!!  If you don’t know that the 20th century begins with World War I, don’t read any more of this post!

This book was a Christmas present for Drew many years ago.  We had both read a novel called The Kitchen Boy, historical fiction based on the end days of the Romanov family.  Drew had been fascinated with this time in history long before The Kitchen Boy even came out, but all it takes is a good book to fascinate you all over again.

Ever since he read it, he’s been asking me to check it out.  But you know how it is…there’s always another book waiting in the wings, and it’s difficult to place someone’s recommendation before your own.  This summer, however, with the heat of Las Vegas closing in on us, a book focusing on Russia, Germany, and England and the royal ties between them seemed like a welcome respite.  There’s also nothing like a tragic, Shakespearean historical tale to make you feel like whatever might be bothering you isn’t that bad.

The book is exceptionally readable for its undertaking — the author really tries her best to focus only on the most important players.  Even as a slight German speaker, I had trouble keeping track of all the members of Kaiser Wilhelm’s court — everyone was von ________ern this or zu _______berg that.  Tricky stuff.  So the extra bureaucratic players blended together into two groups  for each sovereign — those that supported monarchy, and those that supported democratic systems.

My favorite picture from the book -- Tsar Nicholas on the left and King George on the right. Look like twins, huh? Would you guess that their mothers were sisters? I bet you would. And you'd be right.

By the end of the book, I really had a handle on the personalities of all three monarchs.  They’re sort of like the Beatles — there’s the quiet one (Tsar Nicholas), the beloved one (King George), and the crazed, autocratic, militaristic one who can’t possibly lose touch with reality because to lose touch would mean that he was in touch in the first place (Kaiser Wilhelm).  I guess Tiger Beat would call him the bad boy.

It’s so difficult to get into the spirit of the times, though.  Sure, through our post-revolutionary eyes it looks like Nicholas should have seen the demise of his reign coming for years, but through the eyes of an autocratic ruler who believes that God has placed the country under his care, and whose predecessors had, for DECADES, survived assassination attempts and revolutions — well, then it’s a little more difficult to see.

Tsar Nicholas, King George, Kaiser Wilhelm

Monarchy had to fall at some point, and it’s the poor luck of these three cousins to be the last ones.  The Kaiser is the most intriguing man here, because you’re never quite sure what he’s going to do next, but you know it’s something crazy.  This book posits that World War I is his fault — and it’s hard to see otherwise — because he felt shunned by England and Russia.  England hurt the most, though — Queen Victoria was his grandmother, and he was always torn between being German or being English.  Willy lives with a paranoia that England and Russia are plotting against him, and so he strengthens his army and builds up his navy as if to say, “Now you HAVE to pay attention to me.”  But the author doesn’t let the other two off the hook — they DID ignore Wilhelm to a certain extent, and could have changed the course of history by not creating an alliance with France that blatantly dismissed Germany…in fact, it was really in case of war with Germany.

The Tsar and his children

So, in conclusion…I don’t know.  To quote Monty Python, “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who.”  (That’s a deep cut, if you don’t know the quote.)  It does seem pointless to try to find out who was the first monarch at fault.  What is certain is that it was the perfect series of events to bring about the abdication of two monarchs — Wilhelm was forced to abdicate at the end of the war, and he was exiled to the Netherlands;  Nicholas was also forced to abdicate by revolutionaries in Russia, and the rest of his life plays out much more sadly…whereas it’s difficult to feel sympathetic to the Kaiser, it’s easy to feel sympathy and sadness for the Last Tsar and his family.  George is the only one who made it through the war unscathed, thanks in equal parts to the constitutional monarchy of Britain, which made the war not the fault of the king alone, and to his displayed attitude during the war.  The royal family put themselves on war rations while the war was going on, and made sure the British people saw they were doing it.  His upbringing helped him succeed here where his two cousins failed — Willy and Nicky never knew life without luxuries, but George, who was not the eldest son, had been in the Royal Navy for years, and not just in a non-combat role.

Obviously, I have a lot to say about this book and the history in it.  So let’s just wrap it up — I liked the book.  It was clear, interesting, opinionated, and you can’t create more fascinating characters or situations.  History makes the best books.  I feel bad for all the characters in it, just playing out the parts fate has dealt them as best they can.  And I feel like watching Fall of Eagles again, even though it was campy, 1970s BBC.  Since we’re seeing so many remakes anyway, how ’bout it, Hollywood?  You can’t get a better story than this.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Marvel made a comic book out of it! Very cool...

(Okay, Beth!  Here it is!)

I enjoyed it.  That’s first.

Second comes all of the baggage that I brought to this book. I kind of didn’t want to like it.  I feel sheepish saying that, but when I finally decided to read this beloved book from the canon, that everyone has always told me I SHOULD read, I pushed back.  Maybe it was because I read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre at very impressionable moments.  After being so steeped in the Brontes, Austen’s books seemed so “surface”…  It was all dances and husbands and then finally in the end, a nice love scene which you always knew was coming.  Of course Emma was going to be happy in the end.  Of course Marianne and Elinor were going to be okay.  In the Bronte books you never knew!  At the time, I was only appreciating Austen’s writing for the plot — and there wasn’t much to appreciate.

But that was awhile ago.  So, with it being free on my Kindle, I decided to give it another go.  And, I thought my mother-in-law would approve!  Since it came so highly recommended from someone whose book sense I trust, I had to read it all the way through.

At first, it was a bit of a chore.  I kept telling myself to give it a chance.  Just enjoy it.  Forget that Keira Knightly played Elizabeth in the recent movie and you think she looks like a skeleton monster.  The main character has the same name as you — she can’t be all bad.  Roll with it.

I found myself in turmoil at the beginning over the flightiness and frivolity of the Bennets.  They all — mother, daughters, father — were so deep in self-interest.  I wondered how I would actually read this all the way through.  Then, Mr. Bennet had a problem with Mr. Collins, and Jane shared this thought with me:

In [Mr. Bennet’s] library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquility; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room of the house, he was used to be free from them there.

Isn’t that beautiful?  And, not only beautiful, but true?  It’s like a little moment of Virginia Woolf in the mind of this patriarch.  It just so happened, also, that I read this at the same moment that I had begun to share my classroom with two more teachers.  I didn’t have my own space away from folly and conceit any more either, and I thought, Don’t worry, Mr. Bennet — we’ll get through this together.

And, with that simple little moment, Jane Austen won.  I opened up to the rest of the story, and didn’t worry too much about the silliness and sometimes stupidity of the women, or the bull-headedness of the men, or the taxing rules of their society.  I found myself marking page after page of my favorite moments, and wanting to comment on her astuteness.  Check it out:

When Mr. Collins simply won’t accept Lizzy’s “no” to his proposal:

To such perseverance in wilful self-deception Elizabeth would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew; [because how on earth can you argue with someone who won’t listen to you?  Apropos for our current political culture!] determined, if he persisted in considering her repeated refusals, as flattering encouragement, to apply to her father, whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as to be decisive, and whose behavior at least could not be mistaken for the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.  [A problem for women everywhere — how can you be taken seriously by someone who sees you only as an object of feminine wiles?]

A conversation between Jane and Elizabeth:

“It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us.  Women fancy admiration means more than it does.”

“And men take care that they should.”

Nice.  Well played, ladies.  I laughed out loud at this next bit from Lady Catherine.  How many times have we all met people like her — when they discover that you are talented at something, they want to make sure you know that they could be talented if they tried, too.  Probably more than you, anyways.

“Of music!  Then pray speak aloud.  It is of all subjects my delight.  I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music.  There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste.  If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.  And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply.  I am confident that she would have performed delightfully.”

She won. I submit to her intriguing wit, biting observations and true-to-life human interactions.

I also appreciate that Jane Austen wants to show that love will only work with relationships that evolve organically.  All of the relationships that were imposed or created by others outside of it were flawed.  But Darcy and Elizabeth in the end seemed good to go.  I’m okay sharing a name with Elizabeth Bennet in the end — she mellowed out, and so did I.

Check out Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates’ thoughts on Pride and Prejudice also — he was reading it at the same time I was.  Unknown book club!

So, in the end, I also swallowed my pride and gave this book another try.  And, lo and behold, my prejudices against it were unfounded and immature.  Hat tip, Jane Austen.  You win this round.  Perhaps we’ll play again some time soon…I bet you’ll win that round too.

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