Category Archives: Classics

“I have learned, and been happy.”

Okay, so I just finished T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.  And oh.  My.  Gosh.  SO GOOD.

I think I’m probably the only person who took the classes I did and somehow never read this.  And when I mentioned I hadn’t read it to my dad and my sister, they both responded with

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And now I see why.  It’s amazing.  And I seriously can’t believe that, as much as I love Arthurian legend and mythology and all of that, I’ve never tried it.  But here are four reasons why it’s pretty much the best.

  1. Book One: The Sword in the Stone – Merlyn, Archimedes, young Arthur, adventures and magic and animals… perfection.
  2. Book Two: The Queen of Air and Darkness – Arthur on the throne, family drama, intrigue and betrayal and battles and Morgause… intense.
  3. Book Three: The Ill-Made Knight – Lancelot and Guenever and quests and chivalry and even though you know what’s going to happen and you really want to hate the characters that are hurting each other you can’t because they’re human and you understand what they’re going through… amazing.
  4. Book Four: The Candle in the Wind – The end of it all, Mordred and justice and politics… devastating.  Mainly because it’s the end.

I’m not going to say this was the easiest book I’ve read, but it’s the most fun I’ve had in a while.  Mainly because the legends I thought I remembered were reimagined, expanded, and made better than I recalled.

Also, while I think Book One was my favorite because it was so magical, the transition to the bleak final book makes me think of Harry Potter.  When I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’m caught up in the magic and the wonder of Harry discovering magic and Hogwarts, meeting Ron and Hermione and Hagrid and even Malfoy, the horror of finding Voldemort and the knowledge that he will always be there.  But when I keep reading the rest of the series, I’m reminded that, as Harry ages, his challenges become less easy to meet, his world more cemented in reality.

In The Once and Future King, Arthur follows the same course.  Book One is dedicated to his lessons with Merlyn and the magic of knowing that this boy is destined to be a king makes everything simultaneously fun and tragic.  By Book Two, Arthur is a young king and you can’t help but sympathize with his struggles as he tries to unite his country (and the sons of Morgause are so hard to hate when you think about how twisted their upbringing is…).  Books Three and Four were hard to get through, only because I knew how the legend ends and characters like Lancelot and Guenever (whom I have always disliked) became so human it was difficult to hate them.  Real life is complicated and people are more than good or evil, and I think that is the greatest strength of this novel is White’s ability to not only develop characters in a sympathetic and realistic manner, but also his insertions of a modern perspective lend reminders of why we should keep reading this book.

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Two of my favorite quotes were from Book One, and I share them now as a reason to pick this book up.

First, when Kay is going to be knighted and Merlyn tells Arthur that his lessons are at an end.  The Wart’s simple answer just about brought me to tears.

“By the way,” added the magician, stopping in the middle of his spell, “there is one thing I ought to tell you.  This is the last time I shall be able to turn you into anything. All the magic for that sort of thing has been used up, and this will be the end of your education.  When Kay has been knighted my labours will be over.  You will have to go away then, to be his squire in the wide world, and I shall go elsewhere.  Do you think you have learned anything?”

“I have learned, and been happy.”

Second, when Wart is about to pull the sword from the stone (spoiler: he succeeds) and all of the animals with whom he has spent time in his education come together in love, cheering for his success.  Throughout the whole book, love is such an important concept, and to have such a humble example (they are the animal friends of a child, after all) still makes me cry.

They loomed round the church wall, the lovers and helpers of the Wart, and they all spoke solemnly in turn.  Some of them had come from banners in the church, where they were painted in heraldry, some from the waters and the sky and the fields about — but all, down to the smallest shrew mouse, had come to help on account of love.  Wart felt his power grow.

So when you’re in the mood for an Arthurian epic, this is the one I’d nudge your way.  Just be prepared to enter the world of Arthur and not want to escape any time soon.

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Another Update

I feel like I’ve been making some serious progress on this Reading Challenge deal – although my thesis is still relatively un-done, but that’s okay… I still have two weeks to get a full draft of at least 80 pages completed… and I already have about 15… so that’s fine…

So, the update.  I’ve read:

  • something aloud to someone else (The Somethingosaur by Tony Mitton to my nephew, and then niece)
  • a middle grade novel (Pax by Sara Pennypacker)
  • a National Book Award Winner (Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me)
  • a book about religion (C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters)
  • a 20th century classic (The Color Purple, which was also Emma Watson’s bookclub pick for February)
  • a book set in my home state (The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mackenzie)
  • a book translated into English (Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue)

And it’s about these last two that I just want to take a moment.

See, on Goodreads, you can only give full stars.  Which is great on one hand and terrible on another.  Because these two books deserved (in my opinion) 3.5 stars.  So I rounded down and gave them both 3.  Giving a book 4 stars means I can confidently recommend it to everyone I know (that would be interested).  Giving a book 3 stars means I enjoyed it all right, but wouldn’t go out of my way to convince someone it’s the best book in the world.

The Portable Veblen is a strange book that takes place mostly in Paolo Alto and follows Veblen and her boyfriend-turned-fiance as they try to navigate crazy families and workplaces and what makes them what they are.  And it’s… fine…?  I think I enjoyed it.  But that’s the trouble.  After 100 pages, I thought I liked it.  At 200, I didn’t think I did.  At 300, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it, but I only had a little over 100 to go, so I finished.  And I think I liked it at the end.  The best part of the whole novel is the squirrel that Veblen talks(?) to that eventually gets a chapter of his own.  I told you it was strange.

It’s just a tough book to find a way to sell to someone.  Like, I’m really grateful I borrowed it instead of buying it because I don’t like it enough to pay $$$ for it.  But I’m glad I read it.  I think.  It’s just a little too off-center for me.  (There’s a reason I like my writers old and dead.)

Enrigue’s Sudden Death is, like Veblen, tough to sell, but I think I enjoyed it more.  It’s completely bizarre.  Like, seriously, try to read any reviews of it and people say it’s riveting, it’s great, it’s intellectual, it’s brilliant.  I found it strange and kind of great.  But it’s for a special type of person that I don’t think would appreciate the completely different nature of the work.  Basically, Caravaggio (yes, that Caravaggio) is playing a tennis match against a Spaniard and they’re going to “sudden death.”  But in between points, you get transported around time and continents, hearing a story about Hernán Cortés and then about Anne Boleyn’s beheading and the creation of tennis balls from her hair and then about the writer and his attempts to write this book and then some stuff about Caravaggio and you basically get wrapped up in a million short essays that are all united by this tennis match that Enrigue has constructed and it’s boggling.  There’s a chapter in there that I really liked that focused on translation and how it changes the meanings of works.  And, knowing that I’m reading a book translated into English made me read it differently.

So again, it’s a tough book to sell to just anyone because it’s pretty much a limited audience.  It’s good, and worth a read if this is your thing, but it’s weird.  And you might not understand what you just read when you finish it.

In non-challenge news, I also read Dear Pope Francis, which is wonderful because the Pope does not shy away from the tough questions children from around the world ask him, and The Warden by Anthony Trollope (which was for class, not pleasure).  I’m also working on Barchester Towers, another Trollope, and am going to have to finish it within the next two weeks because, well, it’s required reading.  It’s better than The Warden, though, so I’m finding it less troublesome than before.

In any case, I’ve lost count of my RC2016 success (I think I’m at 15/63?), but it doesn’t matter because I’m ahead of schedule and that means I have a chance to sit myself down and really get some schoolwork done.  Whoo.

As always, find a new book at your local indie – and see if they read Veblen or Sudden Death and listen to what they think.  I’m curious how anyone else has taken either, or both.

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Reading Challenge 2016: Update

Well, well, well.  Another day, another celebration of Harry Potter.  Having just survived a really fantastic (and completely packed) HP event at work, I decided I should show you just how far along in my challenge I am.  Spoiler: I’ve done 8/63.  Hooray!

  1. Eligible – see previous post
  2. Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (yes, that Ethan Hawke) – Wonderful book, sweet and insightful and meaningful.  You can read it in one sitting and just enjoy it.  Seriously, get this one.
  3. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem – The first pick for Emma Watson’s bookclub (Our Shared Shelf on Goodreads), this is pretty interesting.  It’s not thrilling, it’s not one that I necessarily think you should buy, but since I borrowed it from the library, it was worth reading.  As a young woman in America right now, it seems like one of those books I should read, even if I’m not sure I really needed to read it.
  4. King Edward III (allegedly) by William Shakespeare – Awesome.  I love the fact that this is one of those plays that people kind of think was written by Billy Boy because it fits his histories and it uses similar language.  I love pretty much all things Shakespeare, especially when it’s his histories, so I found this really interesting.  Also, who actually learns about Edward III?  Not me.  Fun, worth reading, short.  It’s a play, too, so occasionally it’s fun to read aloud to yourself…
  5. Lumberjanes (Vol. 1) by Noelle Stevenson – Fun comic series, lots of girl-power moments.  Love the illustrations and am interested in Vol. 2.  Maybe I’ll add that to another list…
  6. The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine – COMING FEB. 16TH.  One of my coworkers snagged the ARC for this book and said I’d enjoy it, so I borrowed it and will freely admit I read it in two days because it’s a fun teen read.  Redwine is retelling Snow White, and it’s in the style of Snow White and the Huntsman, but it’s how that movie should have been.  No mopey K-Stew. with her weird faces, but instead a legitimately badass princess who’s trying to save her kingdom.  Also love the prince in this (spoiler: he can turn into a dragon!) and how the fairytale is dealt with.  Worth a read if you’re in the mood.
  7. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson – While it’s not as charming as A Walk in the Woods (which had me howling with laughter just about every page), it’s still Bryson, so it’s still utterly delightful.  This time he’s going around Britain, trying to see the most he can.  He has such hilarious insights into the quirks of cultures and the utter strangeness of human beings generally, plus this time it’s British, so obviously I’m going to love it.  A fun book, and worth reading especially now that the “sequel,” The Road to Little Dribbling is now available.
  8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – One of my all-time favorite books, and the book upon which I am writing my thesis.  Obviously, I love it.  And I recommend it.  Because it’s delightful.  As is the BBC 2004 adaptation starring Richard Armitage.

So… 8/63.  Looking pretty good for it being only February.  Notice I have not yet attempted to take on the 500+ page challenge, nor have I chosen the book that “intimidates” me.  We shall see how this goes.

Meanwhile, I’m working on The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, the delightful wife of the completely fantastic Neil Gaiman (!!!).  It’s charming and meaningful and completely enjoyable.  It also makes me often want to say aloud, “I’ve so been there!”  I think I’m counting this as my “self improvement” book, because I’m feeling like if she’s done it, I can do it.  And by “it,” I mean survive the world in which we live.

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Eligible

41AUFX-6PWLThe time between reviews has been unacceptably long, and so I must begin with my sincerest apologies to anyone out there in cyberspace who has been waiting for an update.  I’m sure one of you felt a momentary twinge of interest before the rest of the world gained your attention and you forgot all about me, which is both fine and understandable.

But what prompts me to write today is one of the greatest disappointments of my recent readings.  Because I have been reading, despite no reviews.  My classes have been taking up a lot of my time and, obviously, most of my reading has come from them.  Detective Fiction allowed for further exploration in some famous mystery novels (The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon, The Drowning Pool, etc.) as well as some not-so-famous ones (the one that comes immediately to mind is Somebody Killed His Editor, which is so utterly dreadful that I can’t help but give it a mediocre review).

Among my pleasure readings, I tackled Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On (an utter masterpiece), Andy Weir’s The Martian (a whole universe of stars in approval for both book and film, although book was unsurprisingly better), Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (MAGNIFICENT), and Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s Career of Evil (twisty and compelling mystery, but so gruesome and creepy I have trouble recommending it).

So imagine my absolute joy when, just before the last days of semester, the store received, in the mail, the one galley I had been looking forward to since The Austen Project was announced, the galley that two of my bosses wrote pleas for on my behalf.  I actually jumped with excitement when I took it in my hand and I have never been so ready to start reading a book.

But within the first few pages, I wasn’t convinced I’d like it.  And then I read the back description.  And it sounded… okay…?  And then I kept reading.

And that, dear readers, is where things started to Chinua Achebe.  (Fall apart, I mean.)

If you don’t want any spoilers, look away now.  I’m only saying this because, while I know I usually have some sort of spoilers, I try my hardest not to completely ruin everything, but this one requires some venting on my side, so you’re going to get spoilers.

So seriously, don’t want spoilers of any kind, don’t keep reading.  Just skip to the very end when I tell you when the book is coming to a bookstore near you.

Ready?

So The Austen Project, which I don’t believe I’ve mentioned in great detail, is a brilliant plan to take Jane Austen’s classic novels and modernize them, with a different author taking on each project.  So far, we’ve had Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, and the ever-wonderful Emma by Alexander McCall Smith.  In all three of these retellings, the authors have stayed true to the plot and characters of the originals while adjusting some details (Marianne of S&S plays guitar and Elinor is studying architecture, Catherine Morland of NA is going to a festival in Edinburgh, and Emma is studying interior design while she plays matchmaker).  I have thoroughly enjoyed the three novels thus far, despite people saying that it’s in bad taste to adjust Jane Austen’s works to modern tastes – what’s wrong with reading the original Austen?!? – and, having just finished a semester course on the famous JA herself, I feel even more confident in my assumption that she would be flattered that authors are vying for a chance to update her stories.

And maybe this is where the trouble for me really starts.  Pride and Prejudice was the first Austen I read over a decade ago and, as a young woman who 1) loves British literature, and 2) loves period piece dramas largely because of Colin Firth’s perfection in playing Mr. Darcy, I had Olympic-level high expectations for the latest Austen Project installment.  And maybe the height of those expectations is what made me dislike this book so much and be so shocked by the generally positive reviews on Goodreads.

Curtis Sittenfeld (Sisterland, American Wife) offers her retelling of the most famous Austen novel under a new name, Eligible, in reference to the reality show in which Chip Bingley takes part.  The trouble is, the novel takes on the feel of a poorly scripted reality show more and more and because less enchantingly Austenian as the plot progresses.  Perhaps Eligible is not Pride and Prejudice because, unlike the retellings from Trollope, McDermid, and McCall Smith’s books, Sittenfeld is trying to distance herself from the original and remove all sense of Austen from the text.  That would seem to me to be a bit of a problem, considering it’s being written for the Austen Project…

Overall, to be perfectly frank, it is only the occasional sentence which glimmers, a moment of grammatical passion, in an otherwise stale retelling.

Basic gist of the story: Liz and Jane Bennet come home to Cincinnati from their lives in New York City because Mr. Bennet has a heart attack and they need to take care of him.  Enter the rest of the Bennets – Mrs., still as obnoxious as ever; Mary, who may or may not be a lesbian and who spends her time taking online college courses instead of spending time getting a job in the real world; Kitty, who apparently has a talent with manis and pedis, but who also refuses to get a real job and move out of the family house; and, of course, Lydia, a snot-nosed, bratty-mouthed, absolutely unbearable update of her 19th century self.  Since the Bennets aren’t really good at keeping budgets, the family is about to go bankrupt (although there never seems to be any urgency about the money situation), and the added pressure of all the girls getting older (Jane is 40, Liz is 38) and having no babies is making life horrible.  And then Chip Bingley, former bachelor star of Eligible (which is The Bachelor without a copyright) and his neurosurgeon friend Fitzwilliam Darcy.  In case you weren’t sure what was going to happen, Liz doesn’t like Darcy at first because he’s kind of a jackass, and Chip immediately hits it off with Jane, and then things happen to interfere with their romantic relationships and in the end people get married.

Blah, blah, blah.

I have lots of issues with this book, and this is basically going to turn into a term paper of why this is a total disappointment, but bear with me.

  1. The ages of characters – I have no problem with casting Liz and Jane as older than the Austen original, mainly because the threat is the same.  Both girls are getting older, they’re single, and nothing seems to be happening.  My issue is that the age doesn’t make them more lovable, nor does it make me sympathize with their plights.  Jane, having been unable to find a good man who wants her and babies for keeps, is undergoing intrauterine insemination so that she can at least have a baby before her eggs dry up.  Liz, meanwhile, has been lusting after a douchebag named Jasper Wick (hmm, I wonder what role he may play?) who happens to be married with a child, but because his wife’s grandmother is super rich, they can’t divorce even though both Jasper and his wife hate each other now, and so Liz embarks on an affair with him because, quite frankly, she can.  So despite Jane and Liz being older, being more metropolitan than their 19th-century counterparts, they don’t seem to have developed much.  I’m not saying that either character pursuing their desires of either children or sexual pleasure is wrong, but it doesn’t feel natural.  Liz’s nonchalance to being the Other Woman, even if Mrs. Jasper is okay with the situation as her husband claims, makes her judgments of Darcy, Bingley, her entire family, unreliable and obnoxious.  Jane suffers, we are told, from a sort of heartbreak where she spends a long time with a man she loves, but who has two children of his own and had a vasectomy, so having children with Jane is off the table.  I’ve never understood women who remain with men whose goals are not even close to aligned, and to have Jane (who is usually a pushover, but at least a sweet pushover) become one of those women irritates me.
  2. Darcy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, Caroline Bingley, Charlotte Lucas, and every other character you might remember running into at some point – their personalities don’t feel right with the way the original was composed.  Darcy is a close exception to being almost what he should be, mainly because he’s a jerk.  Like, a big fat jerk.  But the moment he’s supposed to change (when Lizzy visits Pemberley, if you recall) it doesn’t make sense why he changed.  He just becomes kind of lovable.  And that’s it.  Lady Catherine is no longer a powerful woman who tries to push Lizzy around – she’s Kathy de Bourgh, a famous feminist Liz is trying to interview for her magazine (Mascara, by the way, what a terrible name for a magazine…).
    3

    Mr. Kohli in Bride and Prejudice

    Mr. Collins becomes Cousin Willie, whose previous incarnation is clearly Mr. Kohli from the hit film Bride and Prejudice, as he’s a tech-savvy geek who thinks marriage should be practical and not romantic.  Caroline Bingley is just a bitch, pure and simple, and her jabs at Liz are almost impossibly sharp for no one to notice/call her out.  Charlotte is depressing and nearly bipolar – she shuns Liz’s (albeit pretentious and annoying) advice to not rush into anything with Willie and then bursts into tears when she moves in with the man weeks later.

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    Kate Winslet as Iris and Rufus Sewell as Jasper in The Holiday

    The Bad Guy – Jasper Wick (who I can’t help but compare to Rufus Sewell’s Jasper from The Holiday, in which the delightful Kate Winslet must finally let the toxic man who is ruining her love life go) is disappointingly mediocre as villains go, having an incident at Stanford be his nasty bit as opposed to the original Wickham’s near-abduction of Georgiana Darcy.  I’m not saying Jasper’s crime is not worth noting, but it just felt flat.  He gets told to rewrite a shit story in his creative writing class and he pees on the professor’s desk – also, the professor is a black woman, so there’s the ever-present racial threat.  It’s a bad thing to do, but after the buildup of why Darcy hates him and why Jasper doesn’t want Liz to find out the truth… it’s just… disturbing.  To spend so much time climbing a mountain, waiting for some sort of really nasty exploit, only to find that it’s still bad, but not the violence you expected… I just didn’t care.  And this is not to say that a college-age man getting drunk and pissing all over his professor’s desk (whether or not said professor is male/female, black/white) is okay, because it’s not.  It’s gross and childish and honestly pretty creepy.  But it’s not the threat of violence against a woman that the original Wickham carried.

  4. The Elopement – Austen fans will of course recall that the climax of the novel occurs around the time Lizzy sees Pemberley, falls in love with Darcy, and finds out that Lydia is eloping with Wickham, thus ruining the good name of the Bennet family.  Yeah, doesn’t happen here.  Instead, Lydia has been dating a perfectly nice gym owner who seems normal, caring, and down-to-earth.  But then Liz gets a text from Mary – LYDIA’S BOYFRIEND IS TRANSGENDER!  And at that point, the story, for me, really fell apart.  I have no problem with Lydia’s boyfriend being transgender, mainly because it’s an interesting update to a classic.  But the issue I have is that it comes out of nowhere and is expected to resonate with its shock factor.  Sure, the Bennet parents are shocked – SHOCKED, I TELL YOU! – that their daughter is marrying a transgender person, and despite it being 2015 (or ’13, in the novel), there are people who are shocked.  But in the real world, is that something that would make someone elope, and would a daughter eloping still make the father chase after her, and would a family really reconcile as quickly over these issues as they seem to here?  Ham (Lydia’s boyfriend) is perfect throughout the novel – you’ll recall that original Wickham had some moments that were more than suspect – and if he makes Lydia happy, who cares?  The family reaction (which makes Liz leap up and fly from California back to Cincinnati IMMEDIATELY) is another thing that seems forced, and I just frankly didn’t care.  It was too much energy to exert over something that had no real buildup.

b9ff5484f53fd92ca1d9f4236390d682 So what I decided, after writing all of this and trying to find some moment of salvation (couldn’t), is that the biggest flaw is that there are no high stakes here.  For obvious reasons, the dangers of Austen’s world – elopement meaning family ruination, or the endangerment of femininity by masculine force, or low connections cutting off the potential for survival in society – are rarely threats to today’s culture.  But this is why the strength of plot is so vital.  Perhaps a modern reader will not understand why a couple shouldn’t elope, or how that would reflect badly on the family, but a modern reader can appreciate the fact that sexual threats are still frighteningly real, that poverty continues to darken society’s doors.  Maybe Lizzy talking to Wickham for too long alone doesn’t seem so bad to us now, but translate her having an affair with him in which there is collateral damage and she is forced to recognize the fallout – that could work (this Liz may have an affair, but the collateral is unimportant to her, largely because orgasm seems her only real goal in that relationship).

In a modern world where we can expect so much to be happening that threatens our beloved characters – expand on racial issues, expand on LGBTQ issues, expand on political issues – we are instead given boring sisters in a boring family whose biggest problems are being close to middle-aged and not having produced children.  Any potential a modern Lizzy/Darcy relationship could offer is butchered by bland personalities and sessions of “hate sex,” in which they indulge at Liz’s suggestion because she’s bored and Jasper’s not around.  Darcy is awkward and dull and a jackass, but at least he is more palatable than Liz because he is what we expect.

Me, after finishing the book

Me, after finishing the book

Liz is the ultimate betrayal for me.  Elizabeth Bennet has long been one of my favorite heroines – she’s witty, strong, intelligent, funny, and flawed in ways that allow her to grow.  Liz is obnoxious.  She goes beyond proud or prejudiced, and quickly descends into insufferably independent.  I obviously have no issue with strong female characters, but Liz doesn’t seem to grow as a character.  She’s gentle to Georgiana, but who wouldn’t be?  She realizes she’s in love with Darcy… after seeing his house (and while original Lizzy jokes that she fell in love with Darcy after seeing Pemberley, we get the impression she doesn’t mean it seriously).  She makes decisions for her whole family without consulting them because she thinks she knows what is best, and clearly hates her family.  Also, may I reiterate her disinterest in the collateral damage in her sex life?  How can we know that Jasper’s wife is really okay with him having an affair, especially after we find out he’s been having a second affair for a while now?  Liz is no longer a character with sound judgment, nor is she a woman to whom I can look up.  For all her faults, Austen’s Lizzy does what she believes is best, and tries to learn from mistakes.  Call me old fashioned, but I want my heroine to be that kind of flawed, and the same thing goes for my heroes.  I want them to learn, to grow, to become people rather than caricatures.

Jane-Austen-Pride-Prejudice-Monster-Trucks-Kate-BeatonTo make me fall out of love with Lizzy Bennet is a feat no author of Austen sequels, or modernizations, or any movie/TV adaptation has ever managed, so I give kudos to Sittenfeld on that.  But I cannot forgive her for what has happened to this novel, which I had awaited with such great expectations.  My lack of interest broke my heart, and the fact that I checked the end after reading less than a quarter of the book should prove that I finished reading it out of obligation to my bosses who worked hard to get me a copy.

I gave it two stars on Goodreads simply because I have read worse things than this, and I feel that giving one-star reviews is basically like beating up the author repeatedly.  While this review is not glowing, nor will it make the back blurbs on either the hardcover or paperback version of this book, I must be honest.  For the sake of the Austen Project, I can only hope that the next installment is better than this.  Although, if it’s Mansfield Park, my absolute least favorite Austen novel without question, it might be rough going again.

Sorry, Ms. Sittenfeld.

Eligible is due out in bookstores 26 April 2016.  Visit your local indie.  If you dare.

pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies-screen-gems

Meanwhile… Pride and Prejudice and Zombies comes out soon!

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An Unexpected Update

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned – it’s been an awfully long time since my last post.  For those of you who were waiting with baited breath, I apologize that you’ve probably passed out by now.  For those of you who forgot this blog even existed, here’s my reminder.

Life has been too hectic to write down comprehensible reviews, but I have been reading and now I’m going to give a super fast rundown of the past several months.  (And please note that my goal is to resume fairly regular reviews now that it is SUMMER and I don’t have essays to write or articles to read!!!)

18773666A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre – As usual, Macintyre made me read through this entire book in one sitting.  It’s the gripping tale of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge Five, and his role as a double agent during the Cold War.  I can’t even begin to tell you how good it is, mainly because I just want you to read it.  Absolutely brilliant tale, fascinating insight into the men Philby betrayed, and all wrapped up in incredible storytelling that only Macintyre could give us.  A Spy Among Friends is due out in the US in hardcover July 29th.

18667978The Devil’s Workshop by Alex Grecian – The third in Grecian’s series of the Murder Squad (following The Yard and The Black Country) is quite a bit bloodier than I anticipated but, to be fair, it is dealing with the return of the most notorious murderer of all time – Jack the Ripper. As a… I hesitate to say fan because that’s just sick… person interested in the Ripper, I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of gore Grecian details in this novel’s murders.  I’ve done the research, I know what the Ripper victims suffered, I don’t need a reminder.  That being said, it’s a compelling tale with some pretty interesting twists.  Plus, the last page leaves you really wanting more.  For those of you who enjoyed The Yard and The Black Country, and who have a strong stomach, I definitely recommend this one.  The Devil’s Workshop is available now in hardcover.

41WF-Zh5jOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements by David McCullough, Jr. – So this book is basically an extension of McCullough’s commencement speech, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.  McCullough addresses students, parents, and human beings in general in a sweet and funny collection of essays about the world.  As a student (and a member of a teacher-heavy family), I appreciated his commentary on students’ experiences in school now and the importance of accepting that not everyone is special, but that’s okay.  It’s funny, it’s poignant, and it’s pretty much perfect.  I’d recommend this one to every single person, just so that you can start to really accept that you are not special, and that’s what makes you you.  Available now in hardcover.

18170549The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – A posthumously published collection of essays and stories from a promising young woman, The Opposite of Loneliness was a pretty tough read for me, mainly because she was about my age when she was killed in a car accident.  But, thanks to family and friends, Keegan’s works are collected here and they remind us of how much potential she certainly had.  The writing is crisp and clever and, while the stories’ subject matter was not always to my liking (college life, relationships, drugs), I appreciated the style.  Keegan’s essays, however, were beautiful.  Her ability to analyze life with real emotion and connection was wonderful, and I only wish the world could have experienced more of her writing.  Currently available in hardcover.

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Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope and Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid – Here’s where I get excited: The Austen Project!  Basically, six famous contemporary authors are rewriting the Austen classics in modern times.  Now, before you get crazy and flip out and call me a treacherous heathen, how dare I blaspheme Jane’s name, blah blah blah, let me say this: it’s funny.  For Trollope’s offering, Marianne loves Taylor Swift and Elinor is studying to become an architect.  Just think about that for a moment, and realize how perfect that is.  In Northanger Abbey, there’s the overwhelming presence of Twilight vampires at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  These two books are fun, lively, and totally worth the read.  What I’m loving about the Project so far is that the treatment of the novels would, I think, make Jane proud.  To know that her works have become so popular that people want to translate them into modern pieces is pretty neat. (And for those of you who freak out about this and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – which was amazing – and all the other “updates” to Jane, let me point out that just about every single romantic comedy, BBC drama, and novel not based on Shakespeare is pretty much based on Austen.  Clueless, anyone?  So don’t think that this is a new concept – it’s not, and it’s been successful before and it’s doing well so far this time around.  And so endeth my rant.)

1618The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – The nice way to put this one is that I’m so behind the times it’s not even funny.  I don’t know how I haven’t read this book until now – it’s sweet, it’s funny, and it’s beautifully written.  I’m sure 99% of the population has already experienced the brilliance of this one, but for that 1% who missed it (like I did), just read it.  I’m not even going to try to summarize or explain.  Just read it.

 

9791A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – Another old one that I should have read long ago but now that I’ve finally gotten there, I’m so glad I did.  As always, Bryson brings his intelligence and humor to the subject of the Appalachian Trail as he and his friend Katz try to hike the ridiculously long thing.  It’s super informative, super fun, and made me laugh out loud while I read it under a tree on campus.  If you’ve missed this one (like Curious Incident), you’d better get on it.

 

2029177Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson – This is the first Patterson I’ve ever read, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I mean, let’s be honest – this isn’t the novel that will survive the test of time, nor will I say that it’s my absolute favorite.  However, I would recommend it to a friend and I would probably read it again.  Basically, the little girl’s imaginary friend leaves when she turns nine and then he shows up again when she’s in her thirties and dating a real jerk.  It’s magical, it’s sweet, and, again, read it in one sitting.  Well done, Mr. Patterson.

 

12331767High-Rise by J. G. Ballard – So let me begin with a moment of honesty: I only wanted to read this because I saw that Tom Hiddleston was lined up to star in the adaptation of it.  Now, for further enticement, Jeremy Irons has been connected with it.  All the reviews I’ve read of it said it was brilliant, genius, totally worth it.  I say, meh.  Basically, there’s a high-rise.  And people live in it.  But there are three almost distinct levels – lower, middle, upper.  You see where he’s going here?  As tensions rise between floors, people start dividing up and warring with each other and everything is pretty predictable if you’ve read any dystopian/sci-fi/general fiction ever in your life.  I’m of the opinion that it could have been condensed down from about 200 pages to about 5-10.  That being said, I can understand how it will make a compelling film if it’s adapted well.  This will probably be one of the few times when I prefer movie to book – but we’ll just have to wait and see.

And so endeth the list of things I’ve been reading (and that’s kind of the best of the best list). I won’t promise to be better about updating, but I’ll try my hardest and let you know how it goes.  As always, if you’re looking for a new book, I recommend finding your nearest independent bookstore and simply asking one of the workers what they suggest – sometimes that’s how you find that one book that changes your life forever.

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