Posts Tagged Jane Austen

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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Just a Little Smile is All it Takes: Happy Birthday Colin Firth

Winter, 2008: the near-end of my first semester as a PhD student. In the midst of end-of-semester insanity, I’d gone home for the Thanksgiving holiday to see my family. While everyone else in the family gathered in the living-room to decorate the Christmas tree, I sat curled on the sofa watching the BBC television adaptation of Jane Austen’s /Pride and Prejudice/ for a seminar paper due two weeks later. My father, as he so often does when I visit, wandered into the room at intervals to inquire about my progress and whether or not I needed anything (AKA another cup of coffee…or a tranquilizer). What he discovered probably made him suspect I’d require the latter. There I was, feverishly pecking at the keys on my laptop: pausing, rewinding, scribbling, rewatching, and—it goes without saying—occasionally attempting, without much success, to suppress a fangirlish squeal of delight.
“Research?” Dad asked delicately while I manufactured an expression of intense concentration.
“Yes, for my Jane Austen course.”
Dad’s gaze swiveled to the wet-shirted, dripping delight that was Colin firth and then settled back on me. “Well
, I’m glad your graduate studies are being put to good use.”
Just then, my mother joined him, took one look at the television, and declared, “So this is why you declared a specialization in nineteenth-century literature. Suddenly it all makes sense.”

My fascination with Colin Firth has been something of a family joke for as long as I can remember. One long-ago Christmas during my childhood, a distant relative I no longer remember sent me a gift that at the time, they’d probably only picked out because it was the nearest to hand: a video of Hallmark’s 1987 television adaptation of “The Secret Garden”.

The day after Christmas, I sat curled on the rug in front of the television, the distant shouts of the neighborhood children trying their new bikes and roller-skates drifting in through the open window. At that moment, it didn’t matter that they never included me in their games—that I couldn’t ride or skate or run as quickly as the rest of them; I was far too engrossed in the story unfolding on the screen in front of me. At the time, I still had enough usable vision that if I sat close enough to the screen, I could still distinguish faces. Suddenly, in the final scene, I found myself scooting as close to the set as I could without actually pressing my face against the glass.
“This wasn’t in the book,” I thought as I watched, intrigued. A grown-up Mary Lennox was standing in her garden with Ben Weatherstaff, and suddenly from behind her came a voice, tender and caressing, and slightly crisp at the edges—a summer breeze with just a hint of fall: “Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.” I shivered as Mary turned and saw who it was, and as I caught a glimpse of his face, I thought, “That’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”

Why? Why that man? Why that face? There wasn’t anything immediately remarkable about it; neutral in appearance, passive in expression, but with a hint of something rippling beneath the surface like a lake stirred by a light breeze. That was what intrigued me—that carefully modulated reserve, that passion kept in check. Then I watched him kiss her, and I think my heart spilled into his hand then and there.

That was the first time I saw Colin Firth, though it wasn’t until quite a few years later—after I’d become much more familiar with his work—that I made the connection. Since that moment, I’ve been mesmerized and a bit haunted by that face—a face I’ve never forgotten, though it’s been years (longer than I feel comfortable admitting) since I’ve actually seen it. Over the years, I’ve made (and have been the subject of) plenty of jokes about this…lifelong love affair, for lack of a better term: that Colin Firth is the reason I can’t walk past a fountain or make an omelet without smiling; that (according to my mother) I’ve taught so much of his work in my courses I should probably list him as a guest lecturer; that he’s the reason why I refuse, on principle, to accept a marriage proposal that does not begin with or contain the words, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Admittedly, in fairness to Mr. Firth, even though I can no longer reread /Pride and Prejudice/ without hearing his voice, I really think the blame for that last one should be laid at the feet of Jane Austen, since it was she who wrote those words.

The truth is, though, that I’ve cherished a long admiration of his work that has deepened as I’ve been given opportunities to study it more closely, both in my own work and with students. He reminds me daily that passion for one’s work is often more rewarding than recognition (though he’s certainly deserving of every accolade he’s received) and I love his obvious appreciation in so much of his work for the value and utility of literature. I cannot reiterate enough that I think the roles he’s had in literary adaptations are some of his best performances. (And before anyone asks, yes, I have had the privilege of listening to his recording of Graham Green’s novel /The End of the Affair/, and I was entranced).

I don’t know why I feel compelled to share this story; it isn’t a remarkable one by any means, but it’s one that never fails to make me smile. In my mind, I associate Colin firth with some of my last, and clearest visual memories. Over time that image, like so many of the others, has begun to fade, but whenever I hear his voice, if I close my eyes, I can just see that face—can just picture that tantalizing half-smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. Maybe I’m no longer the best judge, but that smile is still one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

The happiest of birthdays to you, Mr. Firth, and many happy returns!

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Open Your Eyes: Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012

Those of you who know me or who have been following this blog for any length of time know that in addition to being sexy, intelligent, witty, a decent cook, and modest to a fault, I am blind: or rather, I am a person who happens to be blind. There is a difference between being a blind person and a person who happens to be blind, and it is not a subtle one. Every day, we tell ourselves stories about who we are, and those stories shape the images we create of ourselves and the world in which we live. To call myself a blind person would be true, but it would also be a gross understatement—an oversight of the many ingredients that, mixed together, make up the unique flavor of my personality.

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day, and as I reflect upon the ways in which society defines me by the disable label, I also find myself thinking about the eye-opening moments I have been privileged enough to share with those who have been willing to look beyond that label.

Last spring, I taught a course in 20th Century British Literature, but I was transparent about my passion for my area of specialization—the Nineteenth Century—and especially my Jane Austen fanaticism. One of my students, who I afterward affectionately termed my “Jane Austen student,” came gushing to me after class one day about her trip to England the previous summer and, in particular, her visit to Chawton House—the residence of Jane Austen.
“I have pictures,” she informed me. “If you’d like, I can bring them next class and show you.” Insert very long, uncomfortable pause punctuated by chirping crickets. Class had been in session for roughly four weeks at this point; either this student was terribly unobservant of the Labrador that sat curled at my feet during every lesson, or she needed to have her own eyes checked out. That said, I have non-confrontational tattooed across my forehead, so rather than point out the obvious and add an even thicker layer of awkwardness to an already awkward situation, I smiled and responded, “I’d love to be able to see them.” ‘Hurrah,’ I thought. ‘I am paragon of inner poise and diplomacy.’ I said “I’d love to be able to see them,” which was, I thought, the truth. I would, but I could not.

“great!” responded my student. (Did she need a bomb to drop on her?). IN this case, it was my dog discretely, or not-so-discretely, treading on her foot with his paw.

When I walked into class the following day, I wondered whether or not Jane Austen student would in fact remember to bring her pictures of Chawton and, if she did, how I would explain to her that I would not, in fact, be able to see them, much as I wished to. ‘Idiot,’ I thought. ‘Golden opportunity for a teachable moment here, and because you’re such a politically-correct chickenshit, you’ve let it slip right past.’ As I suspected, Jane Austen student did in fact bring her pictures and suggested walking to my office with me so she could share them. Now the moment had come; there was no way out, but how could I offend her when she’d gone out of her way to bring the pictures and seemed so enthusiastic about sharing them with me?

We walked across campus together, chatting about the weather, classes, my dog—safe subjects. As we drew nearer my office, I was still wondering how I might be able to salvage what was left of this uncomfortable situation and transform it into a teachable moment. While I rarely if ever call attention to my blindness, I try whenever possible to educate my students about how best they can be of service to someone with a disability when the need arises.

When we arrived at my office, I thought I’d let the student initiate the dreaded picture conversation and see what might happen; I was buying time. At this point, “Lovely, but I can’t see it” was still the only thing I could conceivably think of saying. Subtlety is not a virtue I claim to possess in large quantities–in any quantity actually. To my astonishment, with no prompting from me, Jane Austen student brought out her pictures and, flipping through them, proceeded to describe each and every shot to me in detail. It was as if she were simply sharing her adventure with me, using the pictures as a way to refresh her own memory. She must have spent a good hour with me, describing in detail the landscape surrounding Chawton House and sharing the story behind each picture—like the one of the exit-ramp off the highway where she and her friend had accidentally found themselves when her GPS inexplicably switched from the pedestrian setting to the car setting.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this instance, it truly became that, and so much more. IN that moment, it was my ignorance, and not my student’s, that had been exposed—my assumption that this girl wouldn’t be able to fathom how to bring the world into view for someone who couldn’t see it.

In honor of Blogging Against Disablism Day, I urge you to check out Gin and Lemonade, a wonderfully witty blog by a wonderfully witty woman who, among other things, writes prolifically about living with a disability. She rocks—and (quite literally) rolls.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am channeling Jane Austen

Yesterday, in full-fledged literary geek mode, I wrote this post in tribute to Jane Austen on the day of her birth. I therefore found it surprisingly appropriate that this morning, when I stumbled across the I Write Like analyzer, that according to the sample I submitted,

I write like
Jane Austen

I Write Like
by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze
your writing!

At the tender age of 12, when my classmates were immersed in Choose your Own Adventure Stories and the Baby-Sitters club books, I fed my mind on a steady diet of Austen and the Bronte sisters. (Admittedly I did read a few of the Baby-Sitters Club stories). In any case, this was also roughly the period when I began to produce my own “Juvenilia”, dabbling in poetry, fiction, and, I confess, fanfiction. It shouldn’t therefore surprise anyone that my voice echoes that of the writers I was reading at the time. Still, because I’m nothing if not inquisitive, I wondered just how versatile my writing is. A page of my dissertation run through the analyzer claimed that

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write
Like
by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

and another blog sample apparently indicates that

I write like
Margaret Atwood

I Write
Like
by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

A sample of the Sherlock Holmes article I’m working on at present compares me with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though my minimal powers of deductive reasoning conclude that this has little to do with my own way with words; rather I think the analyzer detected a few direct quotations from /A Study in Scarlet/. I’m surprised the analyzer didn’t begin flashing red and accusing me of being a plagiarizing fraud.

As randomly generated as the results are, it’s interesting and a bit entertaining to see how well they do—or don’t—compare with how we describe our own writing voices. I always tell my students that the best writers are good readers, and just as we learn to speak by listening to our parents, we learn to write by emulating other writers. The Austen result was predictable but gratifying; the Atwood pleasantly surprising, the Lovecraft, slightly off-putting, and I’m somewhat disconcerted about the future of my dissertation. It could have been far worse though, I suppose; I could write like Danielle Steel.

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December 16, 1775- For Unto us was Born this day: an Austen Addict’s Tribute

On this day in 1775, was born in Hampshire one of the most captivating and enduring novelists of English Literature: the one and only Jane Austen. Austen was one of eight children born to George and Cassandra Austen; of her siblings, Cassandra was most notably the closest to Jane, and her brother Henry served as her literary agent.

Among Austen scholars and biographers, she is well-known for rarely straying outside the boundaries of home and family life. Her education was completed largely at home after a brief stint under the care of Mrs. Ann Cawley, during which period she and her sister Cassandra caught typhus and returned home. the sisters briefly attended a boarding-school between 1785 and 1786, returning home when the family could no longer afford to keep both girls in school.

Austen began writing in 1787—a series of poems and short-stories later collected into what is referred to as “The Juvenilia”. During her lifetime, Austen published four novels:/Sense and Sensibility/ (1811), /Pride and Prejudice (originally written in 1795 under the title /First Impressions/), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). /Persuasion/ and /Northanger Abby/ were published posthumously by Henry and Cassandra in 1887. She died on July 18. 1817 after a prolonged illness, and aside from a twelve-year period between 1820 and 1832, her novels have never been out of print.

As Robert Urvine writes in his introduction to /Pride and Prejudice/, “Austen is one of few nineteenth-century novelists who have entered popular consciousness as genre screenwriters”. Her work captures, for her contemporary readership and modern audiences alike, a “fantasy of Englishness,” particularly in her depiction of pre-industrial England. Such literary escapism is clearly evident in novels like /Pride and Prejudice/ which, though originally penned in the midst of French-revolutionary turmoil, deals not with the social and political issues at the forefront of social consciousness, but offers a comical and satirical treatment of “polite society”. Austen’s novels have been the subject of numerous adaptations, from Emma Thompson’s “Sense and Sensibility” and the now legendary BBC/A&E “Pride and Prejudice” to the modernized version of Emma in “Clueless” and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones novels (/Bridget Jones’ Diary and /The Edge of Reason/, also adapted into film). Not to mention Seth Grahame’s horrifyingly humorous /Pride and Prejudice and Zombies/: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” If not for the fact that Jane Austen is well-known among her adoring readers for her sense of humor, the earth might have felt the tremors emanating from Winchester Cemetery as she turned in her grave.

I adore Austen for her quick wit and satirical sense of humor; for her comical yet thoughtful treatment of issues of social mobility, gender politics, and sexuality; for creating a rich cast of characters as familiar to readers as our own families and friends. I can never resist—rascal though I know him to be—falling in love with Frank Churchill, and witnessing Darcy’s reformation is as rewarding to me now as when I first read /Pride and Prejudice/. As a graduate school professor of mine so rightly put it, we don’t read Austen novels to find out what happens; we know already who’s going to wind up together. The magic of Austen isn’t finding out what happens in the end. It’s discovering how we get there.

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The Firthday Five: Viewing and Reviewing Colin at his Best

For years–ever since I was a child–I’ve been an avid Colin Firth fan, and over time, my fascination has evolved into an academic investment of sorts,
from the occasional graduate student seminar paper addressing his work in literary adaptation to employing it as a teaching tool in my own courses (God
bless you, Colin, for being almost single-handedly responsible for contributing to renewed student interest in Jane Austen. If literary academia hasn’t
collectively written you a letter of thanks, It’s high time we did).

In a celebratory tribute to the man on his birthday, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite Colin performances. For purposes of practicality, time, and space, I’ve limited the list to five films, mostly because any more than that would make narrowing my choices considerably more challenging. Four out of five of these films are literary adaptations because I think that this branch of film represents some of Colin’s most impressive work. The intuitiveness with which he brings literary characters to life manages to tap into the popular imagination’s image of that character while presenting an authentic interpretation of his own. So: let’s have a look!

1. A Single Man (2009) This adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same title features Colin as the middle-aged, British English professor George Falconer as he struggles to cope with life following the tragic death of his partner, Jim. After nearly two years since seeing this movie in theater, Colin’s performance still resonates with me—the way he gives every fiber of his being over to the character of George. In general, the movie strikes at the white hot center of life, snaps your head around and challenges you to stare your own mortality in the face, and Colin captures that so well. He dissolves the boundary between actor and audience and invites us into his personal space. At once shocking and sensitive, heart-warming and heart-wrenching, I’ve only since reluctantly forgiven the Academy for overlooking this performance because they redeemed themselves with “The King’s Speech”.

2. The King’s Speech (2010) I’ve never missed an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about this film; Colin’s portrayal of the stammering monarch George VI is masterful; he maneuvers the mechanics of stammering with amazing authenticity and presents an intimate portrait of Bertie as a man, not a monarch. Needless to say, a very well-deserved Oscar. Kudos to the king.

3. Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) Yet another of Colin’s appearances in a literary film adaptation and, I think, one of his best. Here he plays Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer in an adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel of the same title. Though his character has little screen time, he is allocated a very pervasive presence throughout the film, and Colin capitalizes on every visible moment he does have. His interpretation of Vermeer is precisely how I imagined him when reading the novel; seemingly withdrawn and enigmatic, with a quiet, mesmerizing intensity, he draws his audience into his gaze and into Vermeer’s world—a world of swirling colors and intense passion. We feel, even as he entraps us in this web of color, that we want to be held captive by his gaze, if only for a moment.

4. Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001) This film needs no introduction; in a witty adaptation of Helen Fielding’s novel—itself a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s /Pride and Prejudice/, Colin’s portrayal of Mark Darcy manages to pay tribute both to the Mr. Darcy of Austen’s making that remains one of popular culture’s iconic Byronic heroes and to Fielding’s contemporary recasting of Darcy while reprising his own legendary performance of Mr. Darcy in the BBC/A & E Pride and Prejudice with grace and good humor.

5. The Importance of being Earnest (2002) I first saw this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play as an undergraduate in a Victorian Literature course several years ago, and it’s the Firth film I inevitably reach for when my life needs a little comic relief. Alternately witty and ridiculous, Colin’s spot-on performance of Jack Worthing is one of which I think Wilde himself would have been proud—a true tribute to one of the Victorian era’s most celebrated playwrights.

Finally: two bonus picks:
Pride and Prejudice (1995) I didn’t include this in the above list because I think—and Jane Austen and Colin fans alike will likely agree with me—this performance defies categorization. A staple of the Austen film phenomenon, Colin’s Mr. Darcy brings our beloved hero to life in a memorable and, I think, unmatchable performance.

Lastly: The Secret Garden (1987) I’ve included this one purely for sentimental value; Colin appears briefly here as the adult Colin Craven in Hallmark’s television adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel, and it was my first encounter with Colin. Short-lived and little-known though this role is, I remember, as an eleven year-old girl, being mesmerized by that face. There wasn’t anything immediately remarkable about it;
so neutral in appearance, so passive in expression, but with a hint of something rippling beneath the surface like a lake stirred by a light wind. That
was what intrigued me; that carefully modulated reserve; that passion kept in check, a characteristic Colinesque trait that fans have come to love and admire over the years.

So, Happy Birthday, Colin Firth; your talent is a gift that many cherish. Thank you for serving as a constant reminder to me, as to many others, that a life without laughter is no life at all.

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D.E.A.R- Drop Everything and read: Celebrating International Literacy

While casually browsing my Twitter feed as part of my morning routine, I was reminded by a friend that yesterday, September 8th, was designated International Literacy day—a day devoted to calling attention to and promoting world literacy and literacy needs. According to Reading.org, “More than 780 million of the world’s adults (nearly two-thirds of whom are women) do not know how to read or write, and between 94 and 115 million children lack access to education.” As a writing and literature teacher, I find myself reflecting as I consider that statistic on how privileged I am in my own literacy and how honored I feel to count myself among those individuals who dedicate themselves to promoting literacy.

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a home where, perhaps because both of my parents were and are still teachers, reading always seemed to take precedence over watching television, or even playing out of doors; always a firm believer in the simple idea that growing children need fresh air, if my mother couldn’t force me out of doors to play, she would at least encourage me to sit on the front porch with my book. When people ask me why I chose to pursue a Ph.D. in Victorian Literature, I always share with them an anecdote I’m fond of relating: One day, when I was in the sixth grade, I was kept home from school with stomach flu and sent to Grandma’s house; sick or not, Grandma’s house was paradise; she had cable. Cable meant MTV. Just before dropping me off at Grandma’s on her way to work, Mom informed me sternly that I wasn’t to sit in front of the
TV all day. (Not that I’d planned to, or anything…perish the thought. What kind of twelve year-old did my mother think I was?). What then, I wondered, was I supposed to do? For answer, Mom handed me a cassette player and a stack of tapes rubber-banded together. It was an audiobook of Charlotte Bronte’s /Jane Eyre/. I’m still not entirely sure why or how my mother had this in her possession, but I’m almost certain that she’d been saving it for just such an emergency. Thinking their might be a quiz when she came to pick me up, I decided I’d read it, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, as a visually impaired child, reading naturally held more appeal for me than watching television, playing dodge ball in the street, or riding my bike, not that I hadn’t engaged in such activities. Fond though I was of proving my ability to keep pace with my peers, one can only take so many scraped knees and broken glasses before admitting that there might be some truth to the paraphrased adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try again; then give up. There’s no point being a damn idiot about it.” Admittedly though, I hadn’t always adored reading—hardly surprising when I had to magnify words to such a ridiculously large size that I’m pretty sure Stevie Wonder could have read them from outer space. Needless to say, trying to read so slowly that I’d forgotten what the story was about before I’d gotten to the bottom of page 5 didn’t strike me as a particularly rewarding or entertaining pastime. It was bad enough that I came home from school with migraines that left me physically ill and bleary-eyed for days at a time. If I hadn’t been introduced to the wonder of braille and the magic of audiobooks, I might not have ever given it a chance.

It’s that passion for the world I learned to explore between the pages of books and the freedom to wander through that world on my own and make my own discoveries that I love sharing with my students. When we talk of my love for literature (and sometimes of their own as well, because college students sometimes read more than we instructors give them credit for even if they don’t perhaps gravitate toward the reading we assign them) a student will invariably ask me what my favorite book is. To an English teacher, asking that question is, I think, akin to asking a mother to choose her favorite child. I have so very many: the before-mentioned /Jane Eyre/, because it was the first “grownup” book I read; Jane Austen’s /Pride and Prejudice/, because as an adolescent, I identified with the fear and social degradation of being labeled a wallflower as the only girl no boy approached at school dances; the Ramona Quimbey series, because it kept me company on so many Saturday afternoons. Some books, like the ones above, I value primarily for sentimental reasons, though having taught and written about the Brontes and Austen in my professional endeavors, I’ve come to value them equally for their scholarly worth. Others, like Khaled Hosseini’s /The Kite Runner/, I love because they challenge me to step outside myself and view the world from an entirely different vantage point.

so in a gesture of acknowledgement of the incalculable worth of the written word, what are your favorite books? Can you recall a particular experience that turned you on to reading? Share your thoughts—and then, go celebrate International Literacy day—as Beverly Cleary so aptly puts it in /Ramona Quimbey Age 8/, drop everything and read!

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