Posts Tagged reading

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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Who needs therapy? Not I, surely

Friday, 6:30 A.M. I’m standing in the cold, cheerless dawn, listening to the pattering of raindrops on the hood of my slicker and the squelch of mud beneath my dog’s paws as he attempts, unsuccessfully, to find a dry patch of grass on which to squat.

Suddenly I hear the distant slam of a door and a call of “Sancho, come,” followed by a frantic yip. Despite my rain-soaked clothing and my dripping dog, I giggle, because Sancho is the name of Gilbert Markham’s dog in Anne Bronte’s /The Tenant of Wildfell Hall/, possibly my favorite Victorian novel, not least because I devote an entire chapter to it in my dissertation. I strongly considered sloshing through the mud to my neighbor to inform him that his canine has the distinct privilege of sharing a name with that of a dog in a (moderately) famous work of Victorian Literature. IN my frenzy, I conveniently overlook the fact that the call to come” was delivered in heavily Spanish-accented English and that Sancho might just as likely be a nod to Don Quixote as to Anne Bronte, but it’s too late to capture my imagination, which has wandered off like a wayward child down a path of rainbow fantasies: I am Helen Huntington, and the owner of that noble canine is Gilbert, and we will exchange greetings that lead to a long, passionate love affair. Never mind that Helen is attired in workout pants and a rubber ducky yellow rain slicker and Gilbert sounds more like Ricky Ricardo than a Victorian hero.

I am pulled from my revery by the brush of wet fur against my hand. My dog has apparently decided that the heavy precipitation is hardly conducive to relieving his bladder. ON-balance, I think it best to avoid capture by white-coated men and slosh back inside through the puddles without enlightening my neighbor about this fun factoid of literary trivia.

Conclusion: I am not, contrary to popular belief, certifiably insane, though I did wonder last summer when a TB test result I took mistakenly appeared as positive if there might be health risks to reading too much Bronte.

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Playing with Fire, Scorched by Flame: Ellen Hopkins’ Burned

I’ve had this novel in my “TBR” pile for several months, and in the humdrum of returning to work after the holiday, I decided to pick it up, thinking that some good young adult fiction would help me forget, at least temporarily, the stress of life. (Obviously I was new to Ellen Hopkins). I found, instead of the trials and tribulations of teen angst, a compelling story of love and hate, of faith and doubt, of feud and forgiveness.

Pattyn Von Stratten is a good Mormon girl: completing her chores, caring for her six younger siblings, dutifully attending sacrament meetings and seminary, tacitly tolerating her father’s alcoholism and abuse and her mother’s submissiveness to his domineering ways. But then a secret relationship with a “real boy”—a non-Mormon boy—incurs her father’s wrath and triggers a chain of drama that results in Pattyn’s “exile” to spend the summer with an estranged aunt in Nevada.

Banished from her home to be punished, Pattyn finds comfort in the arms of “Aunt J”. Battered and broken, she learns about the healing power of love. After years of attending sacrament meetings and adhering to church elders who rarely practice what they preach, Pattyn finds God in the thunder that rolls across the mountain range, in the rhythmic rocking of a horse’s canter, in the eyes of a boy who loves her. So long crouched in cold darkness, she blooms in the wild of the Nevada desert. But in these vast, wide open spaces where her heart is free to fly, is there a shelter in which she can escape her demons?

Burned is a story about the choice to love and the consequences of that choice—that with great gifts come great responsibility, and that even God, in his infinite wisdom, deals doses of tough love. Ellen Hopkins’ simple yet elegant pros at once touches and twists the heart of the reader, and Pattyn’s story is one that gives voice to any young girl forced to grow up in a narrow-sheltered world where questions are forbidden by adults who have no answers.

Note: not being entirely familiar with the Mormon faith, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the portrayal, but this is a story whose power is not bound by cast and creed; Pattyn’s family could just as easily be a Protestant family, A catholic family, a rich family or a poor one. It is a story that will resonate with anyone who struggles in a world where being lost seems far easier than finding oneself.

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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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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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