Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bookish Art for August

Henri Matisse -- Les Trois Soeurs

"Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same
first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, 
which no subsequent connections can supply." 
--Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

"There's a special kind of freedom sisters enjoy.
Freedom to share innermost thoughts, to ask a favor,
to show their true feelings. The freedom to simply be."

Merci beaucoup, mes soeurs!!!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

I don't care what anyone else says, I like Fanny Price! She may not be as outspoken, confident or lively as Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse, but then she doesn't enjoy the same privilege of position that they do either. She's the poor relation who's treated more like a servant than a member of the family. In a lot of ways, Fanny Price is Jane Austen's version of Cinderella. She's quiet, long-suffering, generous, and kind, but most of all, she has a good heart. (Plus, she loves books--having "been a collector from the first hour of her commanding a shilling.") And that's why I like her. She's good. (A quality highly under-rated these days.)

What I noticed most as I read Mansfield Park this time around is that the book is really a study in contrasts between Mary Crawford and Fanny Price. They are such opposites. Mary is outgoing and makes conversation easily; Fanny is quiet and shy. Mary needs to be constantly active and amused; Fanny finds contentment in solitude--enjoying her books and her own thoughts. Mary is careless and never chastises her brother, Henry, for his outrageous flirtations; Fanny sees and silently condemns his dishonorable behavior. When Mary has the chance to marry for love, she refuses because Edmund's position in society isn't prominent or important enough for her. Fanny, on the other hand, has the chance to marry a man of wealth and position, but refuses because he's not a man she can love.

So who's more likeable? For me, Fanny wins hands down. And I'm glad that, like Cinderella, she gets her happily ever after in the end. Because she deserves it. So, here's to Fanny! And here's to Austen in August (hosted by roofbeamreader). It's been a lot of fun, and I'm a little sad to see it come to an end.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Bookish Wit...


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.


Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.

Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

Dorothy Parker's wit is biting, observant, funny, acerbic, and timeless. Not just in her poems, but in her short stories, too. A Telephone Call and The Standard of Living are two of her funniest. (You can find them, her other stories, and all her poems in The Portable Dorothy Parker.) No matter how many times I read them they always make me smile. But then, time spent with Dorothy is never wasted. So here's to one of my favorite writers...and wits.

Happy 120th Birthday, Dorothy Parker!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Jane, Actually by Jennifer Petkus

The AfterNet: a worldwide network that allows the dead -- or disembodied as most prefer to be called -- to interact with the living via the Internet.
 Enter Jane Austen. Disembodied for almost 200 years, she's proven her identity, finished her novel, Sandition, gotten an agent, and is ready for her first book tour. But since she can't be seen, she needs a living stand-in -- an avatar. Enter Mary Crawford, a twenty-something out-of-work actress, who must now learn to embody one of the world's most famous authors. (An author she's never actually read.) And that's not all. There are also the scholars who don't believe Jane is the real Austen and want to disprove her, the fans who can't wait to meet her, the disembodied Albert who is falling in love with her, and her publisher who wants another book from her. Only Jane Austen has writer's block....

Like the real Austen's novels, the plot of this book, which seems simple at first, is deceptively complicated. And while I did like it, I didn't love it. Mostly because I had a hard time warming up to any of the characters. I'm not sure why. Maybe because there are so many, and Petkus' short chapters keep you jumping from one to the next so fast you never have time to connect, or get attached. Not to mention one or two loose ends I wish she'd resolved a little better. I'd give this book a B- or maybe a C+. Needless to say, I'm glad to be done...and even more glad to be able to open the pages of Mansfield Park next. Because no one beats the real Jane Austen!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bookish Games

For my birthday this month I received the best present ever: the Pride and Prejudice Board Game. (Great synchronicity considering it's also Austen in August this month.) For any Pride and Prejudice fan, this game is a must. You race one of four couples around the board, from Longbourn to Meryton to Pemberley, collecting Regency Life tokens and answering questions that test your knowledge of Austen's novel (or the filmed version of it starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). The first player to collect all their tokens and get both their characters to the Parish Church to be married wins.

I can't tell you how much I love this game! Because it was my birthday, I got to be Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. (I even won!) But this game is so much fun to play, I would have been just as happy being Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. The Regency Life situations that your characters encounter along the way are pretty funny: having to go home to repair a torn petticoat, go to Rosings for  tea, pay off a gambling wager at Netherfield, etc. It's almost like being in the book.

Here's to more Jane Austen this August!

(Pride and Prejudice the Game is published by The Ash Grove Press, Inc.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Jane Austen Education...

"I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six-year-old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life. That she'd been dead for a couple of hundred years made not the slightest difference whatsoever. Her name was Jane Austen, and she would teach me everything I know about everything that matters."

William Deresiewicz's book is a witty, readable gem. It's also the perfect Austen in August book (a month long event hosted by roofbeamreader). I felt like I was chatting about six of my all-time favorite novels with one of my best friends. Deresiewicz's astute insights into each of Austen's novels--books I thought I knew really well--made me want to go back and reread each one with new eyes. Each of Austen's books taught Deresiewicz a different life lesson. For example, Mansfield Park taught him that "Being entertained is not the same as being happy." Pride and Prejudice taught him that "You aren't born perfect. You are born with a whole novel's worth of errors...but making mistakes is the only way to grow up." And in Sense and Sensibility he learned that "Love is about growing up, not staying young." Great life lessons, huh?

Reading this book made me wonder what life lessons I've learned from reading Jane Austen. Here's what I came up with:

  • If you're always playing the piano you'll never get asked to dance.
  • If a tall handsome stranger finds you 'tolerable' at best the only thing to do is laugh it off with a friend.
  • If it looks like rain take an umbrella!
  • If you want to catch his eye, show more affection than you feel.
  • If you're going to live life like it's a Gothic novel always have enough cab fare in your pocket to see you safely home.
What life lessons have Jane Austen's novels taught you?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Sara Teasdale's Birthday...

Sir William Orpen -- Grace Reading at Howth Bay

"I Have Loved Hours At Sea"
by Sara Teasdale

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,
The fragile secret of a flower,
Music, the making of a poem
That gave me heaven for an hour;

First stars above a snowy hill,
Voices of people kindly and wise,
And the great look of love, long hidden,
Found at last in meeting eyes.

I have loved much and been loved deeply--
Oh when my spirit's fire burns low,
Leave me the darkness and the stillness,
I shall be tired and glad to go.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Austen in August...

Hosted by Roofbeamreader, Austen in Austen is a month long celebration of all things Jane Austen. Books, biographies, movies, whatever. Anything Austen goes! I decided to start off my month of Jane Austen by reading Lady Susan, mostly because it's the only Austen work I'd never read it before, and also because it's short--only 41 letters long. I've always enjoyed epistolary novels, and this was no exception.

Lady Susan herself was a bit of a surprise; she's such a contrast to Austen's other leading ladies. Known as "the most accomplished coquette in England", she still somehow manages to charm all the men around her. "...her countenance is absolutely sweet, and her voice and manner winningly mild. Unfortunately one knows her too well. She is clever and agreeable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, and talks very well, with a happy command of language, which is too often used I believe to make black appear white." Her sister-in-law despises her, and her own daughter is terrified of her. I found her to be almost a female version of George Wickham: eloquent in speech and lovely to look at, but deceitful, selfish, and scheming. And that's what made this novella so unexpected. And so much fun to read. My August reading Austen is definitely off to a good start.

Here are my goals for the rest of the month:
     1.  Reread Mansfield Park (because I haven't read it in quite awhile)
     2.  Check out Austenland on the Big Screen (to see if the movie is better than the book)
     3.  Read Jennifer Petkus' novel Jane, Actually about Jane Austen in the afterlife (because the premise is so much fun).

What about you? Got any amazing Austen plans for August? I hope so!
Happy Reading!