Posts Tagged books

The Fondness of a Father: a Tribute to Jane Austen and Mr. Bennet

I stood in my closet, hands on hips, tapping my foot as I surveyed my wardrobe. The floor around me was a tangle of jeans, sweaters, and black leggings.
“Woman of substance. Inner poise,” I repeated. “You can do this. It’s just a work holiday party.”
“No, it’s not,” said the small voice of insecurity that generally likes to make its opinions heard when I’m least interested in hearing them. “It’s a holiday party with your new sweetie. The first holiday party you’ve ever attended with a date in your nearly 30 years on this planet.”
“Shut up!” I hissed. “That’s classified information.”
“It’s blog fodder,” said the voice.
“That too,” I conceded. “Now, if you’ve finished lowering my self-esteem, I’ve got a party to go to.”

After much deliberation (and quite possibly the first game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe I’ve played since grade school) I’d selected what I hoped would be the perfect outfit and was debating the merits of comfortable and sensible versus sexy and stylish in the footwear department, when my phone rang.
“So, what are you wearing to the party tonight?” (It was my dad.).
“I don’t know,” I answered, contemplating the potential danger of blind woman and high-heeled shoe versus hard wood floor.
“What? What do you mean you don’t know? You’re going to a holiday party with your new beau. This is an essential detail.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, endeavoring to calm my breathing that had quickened through a combination of nerves, frustration, and tight pants.
“So what are you wearing?” he continued. “You want to look nice. Something that straddles the line between ‘professional’ and ‘slut.'”
“I-what?” Christopher Columbus! I wasn’t having this conversation with my father. I have a very short list of things that I never want to hear in my lifetime; it includes cats caught in a garbage disposal and Colin Firth’s American accent. Now we’ll just add to that any conversation with my father that includes or in any way references the topic of sex or sexuality.
“I, um, Dad, I don’t…want to have this conversation.”
“Well, whatever you wear, just don’t look too sexy, and behave yourself.”
No, not the “Remember-your-catholic-morals” conversation. Please. I mean, if the fact that I’m not dating a catholic already means I’m shopping for a condo in Hell, we might as well just move in together and have done with it.
“Dad, I’m going to be late,” I hissed into the phone.
“OK, but just one more thing.”
I sighed. “Yes?”
“Have a good time. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

With what relatively little experience I’ve had playing the dating game, my father’s involvement can probably be best described as something between Steve Martin (think Father of the Bride here) and the Godfather. The thing is, my dad understands my taste in men about as much as he understands my taste in pineapple pizza. That being said, I have a long-cherished fantasy about the moment when I will some day announce my engagement to my father—a fantasy that is scripted along the lines of this conversation between Lizzie Bennet and her father about Mr. Darcy.

“Lizzie,” said her father, “I have given him my consent…I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzie. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband…Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage…My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Elizabeth, Still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice…and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity and reconcile him to the match.

“Well, my dear,” said he when she had ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

This passage echoed in my mind as, with one deep breath, I checked my purse for emergency cosmetics and headed out the door, and—literary geek that I am—I can’t help noting that I’m typing this on Jane Austen’s birthday; perhaps I’ve somehow managed to channel her spirit. I should try writing a historical novel set during Regency England, though I’ll leave out the zombies and seamonsters, thanks.
I might blame Jane Austen for enabling my romantic notions, but amidst the Darcy dreams, she taught me a valuable lesson: boyfriends come and go, but the fondness of a father is forever.

Happy 237th Birthday, Miss Austen.

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Browsing my Bookshelf: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

This novel has been calling to me from my shelf for nearly a year, and I finally decided to pluck it from the to-b-read pile.

 

Synopsis: Nothing can stop Sarah Nickerson: a smart, sophisticated, Harvard Business School-educated Vice President of Human Resources for a Boston Consulting Firm, not to mention a wife and a mother of three. Adept in her climb up the corporate ladder, Sarah is keen to catch and juggle the many curveballs that life throws at her from all directions, until she suffers a traumatic brain injury in a car accident that, quite literally, reshapes her world. Left Neglect prevents Sarah’s brain from registering sensory information on her left—everything from food on the left-hand side of her plate to the left side of her own body.

 

As Sarah struggles to cope with the day-to-day frustrations of living in a world of which she is only partially aware, she is challenged to see just how short-sighted she has been and that the key to conquering Left Neglect is to focus on the corners of her life that she has filtered from her field of vision. Forced to reach into the black hole of neglect to retrieve her life, Sarah discovers not just herself, but the hands of her children, reaching out to comfort and be comforted, the touch of her loving and supportive husband, and the embrace of a mother who had for so long existed, unseen, in the blind spot of Sarah’s life and heart.

 

Left Neglected is a novel that powerfully reminds us of how a single moment can change the course of an entire life; of how loss, in its own strange way, offers us gifts we could never otherwise have received. With Tenderness and authenticity, Lisa Genova offers us a story that bears witness to the triumphs that emerge from tragedy and the journeys that we can only take when we recognize that the first step is accepting that we must allow others to walk with us. A novel that is a true testimony to the ways in which health, illness, ability, and disability are inevitably a part of the vocabulary that shapes the stories of our lives, “Left Neglected” also speaks universal human truths about love, loss, friendship, and trust.

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Bring on the Books!

Project Give Thanks day 2: Today I am eternally grateful for the endless supply of patience some people have for troubleshooting technology issues, because when God created me, he’d obviously run out of patience pixie dust.

This morning was going about as smoothly as I’d have liked a Friday home from work to go, until my Booksense—my trusty little device for playing my audiobooks and music—seemed to decide it had had enough of life. If you’re unfamiliar, the Booksense is one of several digital talking book players on the market for the blind and visually-impaired; it’s roughly the size and weight of a cell phone, and the model I have can support a 32gb sd card (in addition to the 4gb of on-board memory). Hardly surprising given the fact that my livelihood depends on books—basically the largest virtual bookshelf I can carry around in my pocket is a bare minimum requirement for a blind person in my profession.

You can probably imagine the panic-induced state I was in as a result of this technological malfunction, but thanks to Twitter placing our friends at our fingertips and two frantic phone conversations with a god-saving tech support agent at Hims Inc, we managed to resurrect the dead Booksense—in less than 3 days too! Books are my crack; I’ve never actually had the courage to attempt a 24 hour stretch without them. As it is, I’m not thrilled about the fact that I’m going to have to send the unit in for repair eventually. As I’m trying to determine which roughly two-week stretch would be the best one during which to part with it, it’s occurred to me that I should probably find a decent rehabilitation program to check myself into first because I think I’d be safer away from society.

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And They Listened Happily Ever After: Audible.com’s A-list celebrity narration project

Yesterday morning, much to my pleasure, I awoke to this article referred to me by a friend: A-List Celebrities Line up to Record Audiobooks. Apparently Audible.com has embarked on a new project to enlist some very well-known names to lend their voices to reading works of classic literature; narrators include Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Anne Hathaway, and—the one about whom I’m by far the most excited—Colin Firth. (Excuse me while I die happy). As a blind booklover, I’ve always been something of an audiobook enthusiast, and as my work as an English teacher and my professional interests in literary adaptation have taught me, a well-narrated audiobook is, like a film performance, an active reading of the text—both in the literal and interpretive sense. I find it interesting that quite a few, if not all of the actors and actresses on the list have been involved with literary adaptation at some point in their film careers; Kate Winslet’s Hanna Schmitt in the 2008 adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s /The Reader/ was quite authentic; Anne Hathaway is of course famous for her portrayal of Mia in /The Princess Diaries/ by Meg Cabot, and—as I’ve pointed out here on numerous occasions—Colin Firth’s list of literary adaptations is rather extensive and includes some of his best acting.

As my visually impaired and blind fellow book lovers can attest, there’s a certain knack for narrating audiobooks, and several of my friends and I have spent countless hours waxing rhapsodic about our favorite audiobook narrators as well as which books or series we’d love to hear narrated by our favorite actors. (Morgan Freeman is a widely popular choice, not surprisingly). Personally, I’ve always found the gentle fluidity of Colin Firth’s voice comforting somehow. Solid, unwavering, like a heartbeat, with the crispness of a fall breeze one instant and the almost imperceptible brush of fingertips across the skin the next. My favorite scene in the BBC adaptation of /Pride and Prejudice/ is the one in which we hear Firth as Mr. Darcy reading, in voiceover, his famous letter to Elizabeth Bennet. The first time I watched that adaptation and listened to his reading of the letter, I instantly thought he’d make a superb audiobook narrator. Aside from his soothing tone and pleasantly rhythmic speech pattern, I’ve always enjoyed listening to the way he plays with words, the way he seems to shape them on his tongue and roll them around like savory morsels of thought. I envy anyone with that much linguistic poise, actually; my brain-to-mouth filter rarely works, and the result is typically an embarrassing, Bridget Jonseian spew of verbally incontinent nonsense. I tend, as Mark Darcy so eloquently puts it, to let whatever’s in my head come out of my mouth without much consideration of the consequences.

About a year ago, I obtained a copy of the Dick Frances novel /Comeback/, the only other audiobook that I know of narrated by Firth, and his narration didn’t disappoint me. He manages the transition between narration and character voices smoothly, even if he doesn’t give us the same colorful cast of character voices we get from, say, Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter books. Needless to say, I’m anxiously awaiting this forthcoming book project, which Audible has announced is scheduled for a 2012 release.

Do you love audiobooks? What, for you, makes a good audiobook narrator? Of all of the audiobook narrators you’ve heard, to whom could you happily listen for ever after

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