Plucking out a new path

With my current plan for The Classics Club, I should be making it through twenty five books per year for three years (ending March 15, 2015).  Right now that feels like a LOT–especially when there are more modern books that I also want to read.  So, I think I am going to push out my “due date” from three years to five.  It gives me a bit of breathing room.

  • New end date:  March 15, 2017
  • Goal:  15 classics from list per year

Am I on track for this first year?  Definitely.  I am just past the six month mark (September 15) and I have completed 8 novels: 4 Austen, 1 Hardy, 2 Montgomery, 1 Lawrence.  **I will have a 5th Austen finished by tomorrow to make 9 novels!**

What book do I feel compelled to complete in the first year?  Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.  I stopped reading it because it upset me; there was no available break to the tension.  I will pick it up and begin plugging back through soon–a set of goals will be required (and incentives!)

What would I like to read?  Austen’s Mansfield Park.  It will be my first read through of the novel and I’d like to have it completed by the end of 2012.  Completing all of Austen’s major works this year would make me feel like this project is actually accomplishing things I’ve never done before.

What am I anticipating in my plans?  Spooky novels this October and mysteries for my Nanowrimo November.


The Classics Club: Northanger Abbey

This is an absolute must read!  I laughed all the way through.

Catherine Morland is a young girl with a very active imagination who is taken to Bath by friends of the family.  She meets all kinds of new people and, being a sheltered girl, doesn’t have any experience in dealing with fly-by-night friends or pushy would-be-suitors.  And, Mrs. Allen–the lady whom she is accompanying–really doesn’t offer guidance as she is more concerned with her own self and pleasure; however, Mr. Allen–when he makes any appearance at all–generally has his head screwed on tight.

Isabella Thorpe is a shallow young girl who befriends Catherine and drags her about from place to place so she (Isabella) can be admired.  First she sets after James Morland, Catherine’s elder brother, becomes engaged and then dumps him when she lands the stronger financial candidate, Captain Tilney, the heir and oldest Tilney sibling–but is eventually dumped by him.

John Thorpe, Isabella’s brother, is a school friend of James Morland.  The arrogant Thorpe is very heavy-handed about separating Catherine from anyone but himself; he changes her plans without her consent several times.

Henry Tilney is the one young person who talks sense to Catherine most of the time.  She actually develops feelings for him and wants to know him better (when not being thwarted by circumstance or Thorpe).

Eleanor Tilney, Henry’s sister, becomes a friend to Catherine.  She is kind and a bit shy.

General Tilney is quite overbearing to his children and exhibits many of the same characteristics of John Thorpe.  He is at the center of the dramas at the end of the book–and only one turns out to be an actual problem that didn’t stem from Catherine’s wild imagination.

Is this a typical Austen romance?  Yes, but we are treated to every wild imagining generated out of gothic tales which cause the “typical” to be hidden.  The imagination can easily swamp reality for Catherine–and the reader.

Will I read this again?  Absolutely!

I wish I had read this novel when I was fifteen or sixteen:  I adored horror novels–being scared was fun.  But, because of this, I still think twice (even after all these years) about walking over storm drains.  This novel might have made me take a look at my need for excitement and try to find an alternative path for it.  I probably wouldn’t have stopped reading horror novels, but I might have found something else to read in between to give myself a break!

  • Started:  end of August
  • Finished:  20 September, 2012

The Classics Club: Emma

Until about 2/3 of the way through, I found this book to be seriously dull.  I’ve seen commentary and articles about the book that discuss this being a portrait of domestic life during the time–the female confinement to household concerns and little adventure.  Perhaps that is the whole problem?

While it is true that the characters are operating under this weight of confinement, Emma is at once a brat and meddler.  She does things because she can or because it relieves the monotony.  Even toward the end of the book she admits to Mr. Knightley that she had called him George just once to see if he would chastise her for it, but when he didn’t rise to the bait she stopped.  She had no use for doing anything that wouldn’t cause a ruckus where she could be the center of attention.  In fact, she doesn’t start looking at her own behavior until Mr. Knightley takes her to task for being unforgivably rude to Miss Bates.  It seems that shame is the key to her transformation because nothing else Mr. Knightley said to make her aware of her small tyrannical behaviors before this had worked.

This kind of confinement seems to breed an underlying hostility into everyone and everything.  The men are allowed escape because they can galivant around as much as they please, but the women are stuck.  We can see the progression of unopposed domestic power:  Emma exercises her own will and vanity on those closest to her; Mrs. Elton, a newcomer, makes the attempt to dominate the lives everyone in the social circle; Mrs. Churchill forces everyone around her to obey her whims without fail and makes all miserable.  Without someone to check the run-away power trips, it is likely that Emma would also evolve into a Mrs. Churchill.

No one–but, eventually, Mr. Knightley–holds Emma to account for anything.  Her father will not.  Her sister does not.  And, Mrs. Weston (Miss Taylor) is described:  “…the mildness of her temper hardly allowed her to pose any restraint; and the shadow of authority now being long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.”

And, Emma under her own guidance is dreadful.

But after Knightley’s whipcrack, Emma starts to examine the whole of her behaviors.  It seems (to me) a bit unrealistic that, after years of disciplinary neglect, that one serious comeuppance would actually work.  Emma in no way feels as sensitive as either Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice or Anne Elliot from Persuasion.  She really feels kind of blank–a bundle of willful ideas rather than anyone with actual feelings.  Austen tells us she has them–particularly after Knightley’s lecture on her conduct–but it doesn’t really ring true for me.

Will I read this book again?  Maybe–in a couple of years.  I listened to this by audiobook, but I am not sure having a physical book in front of me will improve the story much.  Maybe I am just in a snerty mood.  It just feels like a whole lot of writing with little “happening” except a few visits with friends and a lot of gossip and rumor.  Mr. Knightley’s frustration at Emma for meddling in the affairs between Harriet and Mr. Martin and his anger at her behavior toward Miss Bates feel like the only true moments of feeling through the book.  I guess I want more from a book than a few instances of amusement…

OK.  These are my haphazard thoughts for now…

Emma needs a good whack

Yes, I am well aware that I am still chipping away at Northanger Abbey–which, at the moment, I am finding much preferable to the Austen I began listening to on audiobook (Emma).

Good grief.

While I know I saw the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version–though I remember little of it now–I don’t remember having such a reaction toward Emma.   But, after beginning to listen to Emma on audiobook, I cannot stand this girl.  How in the hell does anyone think her charming?  I find her to be quite cruel and can see nothing of sensible value in her.  And why Knightly doesn’t slap her upside the head after she screws up Mr. Martin and Harriet…grrrr.

I really hope she changes significantly over the course of the novel!

Austen in August: out of time…

This month went by too fast!

Austen in August has been great fun.  I finally managed to finish Pride and Prejudice which is something that should have been done ages ago!  That was my biggest hurdle for the month so I feel quite pleased with myself.

I will most likely not finish Northanger Abbey before midnight tonight as I have a stack of student papers to grade instead.  My one concern:  I do wish I had a book copy of NA.  I was reading it online (Project Gutenberg) before I grabbed a copy for my Kindle.  And, while I can highlight and take notes on my Kindle, I do find a hard copy of a book to be my preferable medium for such things.  However, I do think this will turn out to be my absolute favorite Austen novel, even with its rough edges.

From the library

I managed several of the essays out of the compilation, A Truth Universally Acknowledged.  I will probably pick that one back up from the library as it was interesting to see what different writers think of Austen.

Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners.  It was cute but not exactly what I expected, so I just flipped through.  If you are confused by certain behaviors in Austen’s books, you might get a chance to understand what and why it happens.  To me, the snippets out of Austen’s letters and books just read like common sense and didn’t really illuminate anything of which I was unaware.

I didn’t get to Austen’s collected letters before having to return it.  I will definitely check those out again.

Both Emma and Sense and Sensibility are in my audiobook files on my computer and I will begin listening to those soon.

The rest

Eventually, I will get around to Mansfield Park–hopefully before the end of the year–and then I will have made my way through all of Austen’s major works.  That would make me feel like I had really accomplished something.  If I can do that, I may try to get through all of Dickens next year!

Even though I didn’t quite finish the second book this month, I still loved Austen in August.  I had a chance to see what others thought about the author and the books.  It makes me wonder if this isn’t a better method of experiencing and discussing literature than a traditional classroom…

Ok.  So that’s my last two cents for the month.  😀  Have a glorious weekend.

Who knew Jane was so funny?

While there are amusing moments in Austen’s other books, they have nothing on Northanger Abbey.  I never thought Austen would make me laugh out loud; it sounds rather strange as I sit alone giggling, chortling, and guffawing in an empty house…


Classics Club and Austen in August: Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”  So begins Austen’s second novel, Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813. 

I am a bit ashamed of myself for never making my way through the entirety of this novel before now.  Why?  Well, I blame Colin Firth.  Seriously.  I could never be bothered to read on when all I had to do was pop in a DVD.  And, well…just look at him.  **swoon**

To be honest, I thought that particular adaptation was quite equal to the novel.  However, there are certain places where the novel is superior for detailing feelings and certain elaborations that are just not possible to achieve through film.

What did I think of the book?

I am still uncertain how I feel about it.  Yes, yay for the girl getting the boy and whatnot and all the happy ending stuff.  But, as I look at the novel for other things, it leaves me with a large degree of uncertainty about what I would like to say about the whole thing.

Did I like the novel?  Very much.

Will I re-read it?  Most definitely.

Things I noted:

  • In reading from Susannah Carson’s compiled essays, A Truth Universally Acknowledged:  33 Great Writers on Why We Read Austen, I stumbled across a short piece by writer, Benjamin Nugent, about nerds.  He posits that the socially awkward folks like Mary Bennet or Mr. Collins are the nerds of the day–they can’t seem to really make a connection with societal expectations no matter how hard they try.  While I can agree that they are socially inept, I am wondering more why it is that they are the ones focused on moralizing over the behavior of others.  Certainly they are judgmental as many of the characters in this novel are, but they are morally judgmental without having the experience or sense to justify their waffling on.
  • I guess what really bothers me about the whole thing is that in a home with that many girls–regardless of the time period–I cannot believe that all five were absolutely civil in their actions to each other.  At no point is it ever mentioned–through all the moping about family behavior–that anyone ever did a damn thing to curtail anyone out of line.  Never do Elizabeth or Jane say a peep to their other sisters or even their parents about the issue.  And how on earth does Elizabeth manage to not to slap Lydia when she returns, proud-as-you-please, as Mrs. Wickham–still behaving like a spoiled brat without a care for the circumstances to which she has inflicted on the family?  As an older sister, I could not have been so kind nor could I have bothered with social niceties.  But maybe Austen wanted to provide an idealistic version of this kind of household regardless of the clashing personalities and behaviors?
  • For child rearing, I see the dreadful consequences of being raised to expect someone would give you everything one could want without being taught ambition to secure it for the future (Lydia/Wickham).  Darcy has the same kind of expectations except he is secure as the heir of an estate and not, as Wickham grew up, a favored child of a family friend; he has the responsibility of estate management and family weighing him down in the world.  In marriage, I see the long term results of an ill-considered partner in Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.  In Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas, while I see stupid reasons for marrying and a lack of romance or feeling, there is a similarity of character which may make the choice not truly devoid of logic–though not recommended.
  • Miss Bingley is a good foil for Elizabeth.  Lizzy, for all of her charm, is also quite a spiteful little thing–and sometimes she is spiteful just for the glee it brings to her.  Could she be just as shrewish as Miss Bingley?  Oh, I absolutely believe it, given the right set of circumstances, even though Austen tries to soften her edges by telling us she is amicable and likes to let the past go (which she never does).  I think here they just manage their commentary differently:  Miss Bingley to shame or denigrate character; Elizabeth to poke at ego; but both do it to feel superior.
  • The very last chapter seemed like a throw-away.  Isn’t there a better way to provide “what happened to…” commentary than just random paragraphs questionably arranged?  It just stopped so abruptly that I began to wonder if I wasn’t missing a page or two!

Ok.  That was my two cents on P&P for the moment.  I may give it another read sometime during my Classics Club stint to see if what I think has managed to percolate enough to form a more coherent examination…

Back to what passes for normal around here

Hi all.

This last week has been filled with interviews, but now all that is behind me.  It’s a hurry up and wait kind of process…

So, in the meantime, I have gathered many things:

1.  The previously mentioned books and audiobooks (all Austen related) from the library.

2.  A belated birthday splurge on novels for my Kindle:

  • Ship of Magic, Liveship Traders #1 by Robin Hobb
  • Mad Ship, Liveship Traders #2 by Robin Hobb
  • Ship of Destiny, Liveship Traders #3 by Robin Hobb
  • Dragon Keeper, Rain Wilds Chronicles #1 by Robin Hobb
  • The Lord of the Rings (one volume) by JRR Tolkien
  • In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

3.  I also picked up from the library China Miéville’s latest novel, Railsea, a re-imagined take on Moby Dick.

The second half of August will be like Mr. Toad’s wild ride!  Thankfully, I am almost done with Pride & Prejudice, so that’ll be one Austen off my plate…

To see what there is to see

Because I am currently procrastinating grading student essay reference documentation on boring topics like global warming and the truth of the myth of Atlantis, I decided to have a look-see through my library for supplemental books to aid my reading during Austen in August.

Happily, these should be waiting at the library for me tomorrow–as they were all available for check-out.  🙂

Jane Austen’s Letters.

Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners:  Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross and Henrietta Webb.  Discusses the social conventions and etiquette of the time using Austen’s letters and her novels to illustrate the points.

A Truth Universally Acknowledged:  33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen edited by Susannah Carson.  Gathers multiple essays on Austen from authors like Virginia Woolf, C. S. Lewis, and Anna Quindlen.

Virginia Woolf’s Nose:  Essays on Biography by Hermione Lee.  Discusses what happens in the art of creating biography.  There is an essay inside about Austen.

Audiobooks–because why not squeeze more Austen into the month?

  • Emma
  • Sense and Sensibility

Maybe I’ve gone a bit mad.  I am hoping these supplemental books will be as interesting to look through as their titles and summaries suggest!

OK.  Note to self:  grade now, read later.

Austen in August begins today!

Well, as you all know, my blogging in July crashed and burned.  I took time away from the internet to spend those hot days doing absolutely as little as possible.  I’ll call it my brain-vacation.  Part of my blogging apathy happened because I wasn’t writing (not by choice) and part of it was from this nasty summer weather.  It was dead dry here…lawns burned and trees losing leaves (seriously, it looked like fall in the yards of several houses–but without the pretty colors)…and then we finally got five inches of rain within the span of three days.  Although lawns are beginning to grow again, I don’t think it will help the gardens or crops much.  My tomato plants are huge, but I’ve only got one tiny green tomato growing on a single plant, my peppers have produced all of three (and the plants are dinky).  And my non-existant morning glories have just started vining.  I’m guessing I’ll have a very late garden…let’s hope we’ll get an Indian Summer through October.

Did I at least read?  Ummm…not really.  I made it through two books:  Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness and Redshirts by John Scalzi.  Loved them both, but they didn’t get me anywhere near Stendhal’s The Red and the Black or Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.

However, today marks the beginning of Austen in August hosted at Roof Beam Reader.  And I decided to read Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey.  However, I was given the advice to read Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho before I tackle NA.  So, these are the books on my table for August…(and, they are all on my classics list!)

Won’t you join me?