Friday, July 26, 2013

Pride and Prejudice Reread

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is my go to favorite book. How many times are you asked “what’s your favorite book?” as soon as you pronounce that reading is one of your favorite hobbies? Probably a lot. Well over the years I've adopted P&P as my favorite, whether out of convenience, true love, or literary popularity, I've never been quite sure. Although I absolutely love Jane Austen, it was about time for a rereading of my favorite on top of it being my pick for the Bicentenary Challenge!

First let me go through what I get when I tell people Pride and Prejudice is my favorite:
  • “Ugh that’s boring”
  • “Huh. So what do you want for an appetizer?”
  • “God I hated that book. It’s so boring and the language is so old.”
  • “I've never read it.”
  • “That is such a good book. Now let’s talk about it and all its merits!”
  • “I hated it because it was hard for me to write a paper about.” (this actually was a reaction I got)

Am I a snob? Yeah a little. Maybe by saying P&P is one of my favorites reflects my snobbery. For those who did not enjoy Jane Austen or thought Pride and Prejudice was boring, I understand! If you have reasons for backing up your dislike, awesome! That’s fine. Not everyone needs to like what I like and yes, Austen’s writing is 200 years old, and so it’s dated. Love stories are not everyone’s cup of tea, but what I truly adore about Austen is that the novel is so much more than a quaint story of a beloved character getting what and who she deserves. There’s a reason we still read it.

Well hopefully, my dear reader, you know the story of Jane Austen’s most popular work Pride and Prejudice, but let me refresh you. Elizabeth Bennet is the daughter of a gentleman with a silly mother and three silly younger sisters. Luckily, she has an older sister who is sweet as pie and a beloved confidant, Jane. Jane falls for the new rich guy, Mr. Bingley, who moves in next door. Bingley has a very rich friend, Mr. Darcy, who is snobby and condescending. Bingley goes away leaving Jane heartbroken and not too long after, Elizabeth runs into Darcy. Darcy proposes and is refused, because of misunderstood intentions and bad information.  However, through explanation and time, Elizabeth begins to favor him. In the end, Darcy reforms as does Elizabeth and he ends up proposing again. Bingley comes back and marries Jane. La di da, almost everyone is happy!

My rereading of my favorite book reasserted that I adore this novel. I read a list about books that are red flags if people claim them as a favorite and women who say P&P is their favorite are overly romantic and just want to turn the rich snobby guy into their white knight. Maybe, but there’s so much more to it than that very shallow reading. Here’s my list of reasons to love Austen or at least appreciate her.
  • Jane Austen is a sociologist/psychologist. She writes characters better than any other author I've encountered. There’s a seamless quality to her description of who a character is, what their motivations are, where they come from, and how they mingle in society.
  • As historical fodder, Austen is remarkable. While reading, you understand how society, class, and money played a role in the lives of Regency era people. These books give an understanding of a different time period.
  • And yet, Austen did not pigeon hole herself by only being relevant to one era. She didn't give much detail about politics, war, or happenings during the era, so the stories are easily transferable to modern culture.
  • Her stories are timeless with themes that are still relevant today such as forgiveness, prejudice, love, duty, honor, slacking morals, and reputation.

This time around, I was more aware of the growing affection Elizabeth felt for Darcy. My one complaint in the past was that in the end it just seems like Lizzy and Darcy are thrown together and she suddenly forgives him. In my rereading, I saw as her feelings developed and how her prejudice against him dropped. Their coupling then did not feel abrupt, instead I longed for him to go to her sooner and for her to say something. Also this time, it took me a number of chapters to be completely absorbed in the book. I understand it starts off as dry reading, but once you get past the first few chapters, and the foolish Mr. Collins shows up, you get sucked in.

Sorry for the length of this post, but my favorite book deserves some recognition. If you’ve never read it, well you should, but it’s not necessary, unless you want to be my friend (friendship with me is very rigorous). If you've read it, awesome! Let’s talk sometime. If you didn’t like it, well your opinion is invalid and you’re an imbecile. I’m kidding! You probably just have no tasteJ

Happy reading, dear reader! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Fabulous Life of Old New Yorkers

Upon looking at the cover of this book, and yes I judge books by their covers as do you (you’re a liar if you say you don’t!), all I could think of was F. Scott Fitzgerald. In all honesty, that’s not a bad assumption. The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is about Katey, a young New Yorker, and her life in the year 1938 navigating the upper echelons of the rich.

The Depression hit and slowly the Manhattan economy is coming back, but for some people, the money never ran out. Welcome to the world that Katey and her friend Eve find themselves thrown into after by chance meeting a rich young banker, Tinker. Katey may be a secretary, but suddenly new opportunities, fabulous parties, and the crème de la crème of New York are waiting to discover her. In this year long journey, we meet a number of characters who introduce the reader to the upper crust of late 1930s society and we watch as Katey ascends the ladder.

As I read this book, I saw visions of fabulously dressed people dancing the Charleston across the page. Very Gatbsy-ish indeed! There were numerous reminders of Fitzgerald, the first being the subject matter and the second being the characters. It’s about the rich and those who are lucky enough not only to look in on them, but actually become a part of their elite society. Katey is a young woman who can hold her own and is not intimidated or in awe of those above her in station. She has no problem fitting in with her new found friends. Katey is a character reminiscent of Nick from The Great Gatsby. She isn’t rich, she isn’t from an age old society family, but she happens to meet the right people. She sees the ups and downs of how the other half lives and then is able to make her way out nearly unscathed. I enjoyed the vivid images of old New York, the stores, bars, and apartments. Towles made it easy to imagine the glamor of the time period, while simultaneously showing the regular working class side of the city.

The other characters in this book have strong voices. It isn’t often that you find a book where the secondary characters can stand on their own, and Towles wrote his characters so they were rounded. People are complicated and he had no problem with exploring their flaws. There were times when he suddenly went on winding monologues about different sports, places, or activities. They added to an understanding of the period and the people, but I’d think to myself, “Is the author just trying to be stylish?”. If he was, he did it damn well and I applaud his first novel.

If you enjoy literary fiction, the life of the rich and fabulous, and this novel, here are some suggestions:

Eve in Hollywood by Amor Towles
The follow up to The Rules of Civility, this novel follows Eve, after she heads to California and looks at her life amongst the heart of Old Hollywood.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Much like Rules this novel takes place in New York City in the 1920s/30s. It’s about a young Louise Brooks, the soon to be silent movie star, and her chaperone, Cora, who travel to New York where they discover  the rapidly changing city and society.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Although still historical fiction, this novel is a bit of a flight from Rules, but still has well developed characters and a strong sense of place. In the Old West, the reader gets to meet a young Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp before they were famous.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Heartwarming Summer Reading

After finishing Saving Ceecee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman, I wanted another sweet, easy to read book. Luckily for me, Hoffman just released a new book called Looking for Me. Like Ceecee, this novel takes place in the South and is about family.

Teddi is a middle aged woman who has the fortune of not only pursuing her passion, but making money off of it. Teddi is the owner of an antiques shop in Charleston. She has a knack for finding beauty and life in the most abused of furniture and bringing it back from the brink of the garbage lot. Although originally from Kentucky, Teddi has found a place, good friends, and customers in Charleston and even a surprising new romance. However, Teddi is still dealing with the loss of her brother who ran away decades ago and hasn’t been heard from since. She still carries the hope of one day finding him. Teddi weaves her story through the ups and downs of her family history in Kentucky, and her present life in Charleston.

Charleston and Kentucky play vital roles in Looking. The reader gets the sense of the woods and farm land in Kentucky, but I found that Charleston was not as well highlighted. Compared to Hoffman’s first novel, Saving Ceecee Honeycutt, where the setting was described and the reader truly got the sense of the surroundings; Charleston’s descriptions missed the mark. Not to say it wasn't a perfectly lovely novel. For those looking for something a bit nostalgic, comforting, and moving, this is a good pick.

Here are a few similar novels:

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
A character driven story about a young woman and the three women who take her in. This is a novel with a strong sense of place and memorable characters.

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg
An engaging and heartwarming read, Berg writes about women’s lives. Cecelia decides to sell her home and road trip with three other women in search of things and people they are seeking.

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs
The main character also works with antiques and it is about discovering your roots and making your way in the world. Tess finds out she is to inherit an apple orchard and be part owner with a half-sister she didn’t know existed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

World War Z

After the Zombie Apocalypse, a series of interviews take place with people from all over the world about what happened. The interviews encapsulate a number of different voices from the doctor who was brought in to treat the first infected patient, American soldiers who fought against the zombies, a blind monk who fought off zombies in the wilds of Asia, and many more hopeful, heartbreaking, and disturbing stories.  Max Brooks brings a sense of reality to an unthinkable event. What was once an urban legend suddenly starts rising from the grave and attacking the human race, bringing humanity to the edge of extinction. What is achieved is a sense of anxiety, reality, morals (or lack thereof), and duty that leave the reader wondering what they would do if World War Z were actually to occur.

Brooks sweeps from continent to continent and subject to subject with ease. The writing is engaging with easy to read language. Fair warning, dear reader, this is not for the faint hearted. Though I did not find it disgusting or the descriptions overly grotesque, if you don’t like violence, this is not for you.

Personally, I did not expect to enjoy this novel. Zombies are not my thing, but I couldn't put this down. It was creepy, but not written as an over the top, slasher book. Brooks explored the nuances and catastrophes of such a devastating event. It was more about the people involved and less about the brain eating ghouls.

Here are a few more books you may enjoy if you like World War Z.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. For all the know how you’ll need for getting through your own Zombie Apocalypse.
  • The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. Kirkman prides himself on his look at what happened to people after the zombies invaded.

  • Dying to Live (#1) by Kim Paffenroth. A group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse band together to survive and try and make sense of the horrors that are occurring. They’re not the only ones out there though and there are some things worse than zombies…

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pre-Revolutionary America mixed with Ye Old American Folktale

My dear reader,

I have not been in a writing mood of late, and life has been crazy, so not a terrible lot of reading has gotten done either. Before I go on vacation, where I will most certainly read quite a bit, I will review the latest book I read.

How does life unfold before you? Christine Wade’s book Seven Locks says that we unlock our lives. Our life is a great book lying before us. We can turn pages, but in order to jump chapters we need to open the locks. These are great events or experiences that change us. Turning points that shape us into who we are, so we can read on. The nameless narrator in Seven Locks is a mother of two with a lazy and self-indulgent husband. Our narrator is said to be a shrew for scolding her husband to do work. One day, after a fearsome fight between the two, the husband wanders off with his gun and his dog, never to return.

Set in pre-Revolutionary America, this tale is about a woman trying to run a farm, raise children, and deal with the humiliation of being left by her husband. It is historical fiction about domestic life. Although the main character can be a bit harsh, it is understandable given that she has had to run a farm and maintain her children’s well-being without help. That’s hard enough in today’s society, let alone in the 1700s when women didn’t live by themselves. Her life and tragedy become an urban legend. Her children disrespect her.

I found the atmosphere and setting captivating. I love hearing about how people ran their homes and how everyday life was conducted in past centuries. The narrator is very capable with her animals and the garden. Her children, however, are a difficulty. How does a woman reign in children who do not trust her and stop listening? The second part of the novel gets into the American Revolution and talks about common thoughts about the war along with how normal people dealt with the onslaught.  Our narrator must deal with even more tragedy due to the war.  

The novel was at times captivating, but I was looking for it to end after a while. There were small breaks in the main character’s narrative for her daughter, Judith, to talk about what she was doing. I enjoyed hearing from the child and then from her as a young woman. As a naive girl, her thoughts are selfish and naive  but her spirit is ignited with the Revolution. The third part of the novel dealt almost exclusively with Judith after the war, when she herself was a wife and mother.  

For the most part I enjoyed the novel. It isn’t terribly memorable, but it was a relatively quick read and gave some insight into pre-Revolution life. The story was inspired by an American folktale and I think most of you will guess what said folktale is rather quickly.

Here are some readalikes for Seven Locks by Christine Wade:

If you want something based on a Folktale, try The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

If you want something that explores the historical and cultural aspects of Colonial America try Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent is about a young girl in Salem, Massachusetts whose mother is accused of witchcraft and how they deal with being outcast.