Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

This edition includes explanatory notes, textual variants between the first and second editions, and Tony Tanner’s introduction to the original Penguin Classic edition.

It’s no surprise that Pride and Prejudice is an all-time favorite of mine. So many of us fell in love with Mr. Darcy at a young age, and we just never really let go of that crush. But I’ve had a hard time getting into some of Austen’s other books. Emma I like, but everything will always fall short of P&P.

Sense and Sensibility probably would have been better titled as Nonsense and Secrets Destroy Your Life.

I.

Was.

So.

CONFUSED.

Everyone is love with the wrong person in this book, which seemed that it would have been solved simply if they would stop keeping secrets from everybody else. Oh, this person is engaged already to this person, and this person is engaged already to this person, but not really because no one knows it and they aren’t ACTUALLY engaged, he just has a lock of her hair.

WHAT THE WHAT.

The only honest person in the whole freaking book is Colonel Brandon–who I might be even more in love with now than Mr. Darcy. If we all had a Colonel Brandon in our lives, we’d all be SO much better off.

Instead we all have Willoughbys and Wickhams.

By the end of this, I was skimming, so I took to Hulu to watch the 2008 version–and it made much more sense in movie format. Still, the only real result is that I fell even more in love with Colonel Brandon, and everyone else seemed much more the mess. Of course, in true Jane Austen fashion, it all turns right in the end, but goodness she does like to torture her lovers, doesn’t she?

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Rohinton Mistry: A Fine Balance

In 1975, in an unidentified Indian city, Mrs Dina Dalal, a financially pressed Parsi widow in her early 40s sets up a sweatshop of sorts in her ramshackle apartment. Determined to remain financially independent and to avoid a second marriage, she takes in a boarder and two Hindu tailors to sew dresses for an export company. As the four share their stories, then meals, then living space, human kinship prevails and the four become a kind of family, despite the lines of caste, class and religion. When tragedy strikes, their cherished, newfound stability is threatened, and each character must face a difficult choice in trying to salvage their relationships.

I will never be amazed at how much books surprise me sometimes. Rohinton Mistry was recommended to me as a key Indian author, but I’ve never much been interested in books written about the 70s, so I was hesitant to read this. When I saw how BIG this book was…I won’t lie–I put this thing off until it was absolutely due at the library, and even then I extended my contract.

951 pages later (I mistakenly got the large print version, I think the regular one is only 600), I have laughed, cried, gasped, and near made myself sick over this book. Mistry has sewn together a quilt of patches from poverty to familial abuse, from fascist regimes to mob bosses. I expected India to seem as far away as 1975–decades and countries away. Certainly something I needed to learn about, but I didn’t think I would be able to relate to quite so much. But this story resonated in so many ways with what is happening in the United States today–this book was a little TOO real.

It was also impossible not to fall in love with the characters. Mistry flips prejudice and privilege on its head because the people he wants you to see aren’t the rich and freshly-bathed, but the beggars and Untouchables–those who most disregard completely. Dina struggles over and over with her prejudice against the tailors–she is us, our wrinkled nose and closed door. There are also those who are obsessed with political movements, and those who are being affected by the horrific changes by the massive changes made by the government…and those who just don’t seem to care at all what is going on until it is too late.

A Fine Balance is two things. It IS a brilliant book about Indian culture in the 1970s. I learned so much about the country and amazingly diverse people that I did not know before. But this book is also us, in our country, right now. It’s on my list of books kids should be reading in school but would never be allowed. I know it’s long, but devote some time this year for this one. It’s worth it.

DiversityBingo2017:  Indian MC Own Voices

Read Around the World:  India

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Aldous Huxley: Brave New World

Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…

Huxley’s ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.

A friend of mine tweeted recently that we were living Brave New World. I hadn’t read it yet, but coincidentally (or not), I’d just ordered it from ThriftBooks. Well, I suppose I better move it up the list, then.

Aldous Huxley certainly wastes no time in horrifying the reader. From the very first chapter, I read slack-jawed in terror about the “utopia” he had created for us. There are definite similarities to what we are seeing today. I don’t know that we are there yet, but we should certainly be wary. It is alarming, for sure.

As far as the book goes–this is going to have to be a twofer. I will need to reread it again. I understood the overall themes and concepts, but I didn’t connect with any of the characters. Maybe it was just too abstract for me.

I have two observations to make:

The first, is just about utopias in general. In every other utopia I’ve read–The Giver, for example–the drug use is hidden. The leaders don’t want society to know they must have drugs to suppress their natural urges, go on with the utopian lifestyle, etc. The drug is always hidden in vitamins, or the water, or something. Here, it is relished, open, necessary. Not taking high doses of soma is frowned upon. You SHOULD be an addict. But don’t take TOO much. Don’t take 20, or you will die. Take a lot, but just enough. Have fun, all of the time. Be high, all of the time.

Second, the caste system–bred into the new embryos, then taught while the children sleep. HOW CREEPY IS THAT?! This is the part that really resonates to today’s world, because while we don’t have a utopian system built for this yet…we have a societal structure that is already this way. Parents teaching children without realizing some of the toxic things that are getting in. I don’t want to get full on conspiratorial but…I think you could see how it could go downhill fast.

Brave New World is a book that would be burnt first if ever such a thing were to happen. If literature starts disappearing, hide your copies. Read it now, while you still can. It should be read, by everyone. And read it more than once, so you know you truly understand what is happening.

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Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man

First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, Invisible Man is one of those rare novels that have changed the shape of American literature. For not only does Ralph Ellison’s nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators, it gives us an entirely new model of what a novel can be.

As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying “battle royal” where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.

I found this book, on one hand, extremely boring. I kept putting it down every few paragraphs. The Prologue was lovely, and I copied much of it into my reading journal, but after that I really struggled to hold my attention to the story.

However, on the other hand, Invisible Man was eerily familiar. Even though it was published in the 40s, all of this could have happened today. Switch The Brotherhood with the Black Lives Matter movement and it all becomes recognizable, especially the second half of the book. I realize there are some big differences, since The Brotherhood was based on a communist organization, but there are also some parallels too–a factional group fighting for their beliefs, recruiting members, training people to serve their cause. Some of the things that happened just gave me so many chills. This is a big part of why it’s such a hard, heavy book–these are hard, heavy times and we are seeing all of these hard, heavy themes in our own current events every day.

It’s a hard book to review and rate. I didn’t really “like” it, but I definitely see the importance of the literature. I’m adding it to on my ongoing list of books that should be read in schools, because I think kids would benefit from teacher-led group conversation on such a heavy theme.

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Margaret Atwood: Hag-Seed

When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.

Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?

Opens mouth.

Shuts mouth.

Opens mouth.

Shuts again.

That was…an experience? I have so many mixed up thoughts, which I suppose is not completely unexpected, as this IS Shakespeare retold. I’ve mentioned before that I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare to begin with–it takes me time to come to terms with his plays. But, because this was Margaret Atwood, I wasn’t going to miss it, right?

I was immediately confused by some of the language. Granted, Felix is a snooty theater person, so his speech is “high elitist,” but it is still a little over the top. And the prisoners are just the opposite…is there such a thing as under the top?

And then there’s this sentence:

“Should that happen, his humiliation would be total; at the thought of it, even his lungs blush.”

 

Felix also really took care to describe the races of the prisoners. And I say that with my tongue all the way in my cheek because when he was first introducing us to the men, he would point them out as yellow, red, brown…you get the picture. It was extremely cringeworthy.

I’m sure a case could be made that Felix is an unreliable narrator and this is not actually how the author feels or would refer to people in real life. But I still don’t think it’s at all appropriate or called for. Just because a person is of color does not mean we actually need to refer to them BY that color, especially when in history those colors have had such negative connotations.

While the language really bothered me, I did appreciate the breakdown of the play itself. It was certainly an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I read through the text before beginning this book, and didn’t quite grasp what happened–Felix’s class broke it down so much better! This is what I wish I would have had more of growing up–legitimate discussion of literature. We didn’t read many classics in school, so I missed this. I would have understood Shakespeare better had it been broken down this way, perhaps. I wish I could go back and take lit classes for fun now. It’s why I write this blog–analysis and discussion.

I’m sure all of this is completely unlikely. I know there are classes held in prisons, but full scale theater productions, with props and blackout performances? I can’t see that happening–especially where ministry dignitaries would be allowed unescorted by security. I will say it was an engaging book, but I cannot rate it very highly due to the racial disregard shown. We must do better.

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Hans Christian Andersen: The Snow Queen

Hans Christian Andersen’s magical tale of friendship and adventure is retold through the beautiful and intricate illustrations of Finnish illustrator Sanna Annukka. Cloth-bound in deep blue, with silver foil embellishments, The Snow Queen is elevated from a children’s book to a unique work of art. It is an ideal gift for people of all ages.

It’s interesting how fairy tales used to be so harsh and murderous. The world was so simple. Death was a part of life–people felt, they got angry, there were consequences and murder. Fairy tales were not for children.

Now, these stories have been so watered down. This isn’t a fairy tale I’ve read before, and maybe that’s because it would be pretty hard to Disney-fy it. That said, I wonder if this influenced CS Lewis when he wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. There is a lot of resemblances to Edward’s story line.

The book itself is stunningly beautiful with its blue paper cut out illustrations, done by Sanna Annukka. That is what drew me to it on Blogging for Books.  It is cloth bound hardcover, and would make a gorgeous gift for any collector.

A copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Voltaire: Candide

Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that ‘all is for the best’. But when his love for the Baron’s rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world.

And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them – earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder – sorely testing the young hero’s optimism.

WHY THIS BOOK WAS BANNED:

As expected by Voltaire, Candide has enjoyed both great success and great scandal. Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naïveté. (Wiki)

Let me start by saying that I have had this on my list of “study books” since the beginning of my list of “study books” because I thought this was a serious book of philosophy in line with Plato and Aristotle. I was so very very wrong.

From the very first line, this book is ridiculous.

In a castle of Westphalia, belonging to the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, lived a youth, whom nature had endowed with the most gentle manners.

Who do you picture the moment you read that? Do you rap it, because I rapped it.

 

When you start a book thinking about The Fresh Prince…all thoughts of serious literature pretty much go out the window. From then on, it was all about the satire. Which is what Voltaire intended. He intended to “bring amusement to a small number of men of wit.” Not a man, sorry Voltaire, but I think he would still be pleased by the rapping.

While I did make quite a few FP connections while reading Candidethe satire REALLY reminded me of Monty Python style humor. People dying, but not really. Cutting off butts to feed people. Satire about existential crises. I haven’t watched enough Monty Python to really get into it, but what I have seen, struck me as familiar.

Did I like this? It’s an I don’t know. Parts of it were very amusing, but there was almost TOO much satire. Sort of like Monty Python really. I lose the plot in those kinds of things, because every single joke that possibly can be shoved in does, and I prefer a little more actual development. Does that make me less witty? I don’t think so, I get the wit just fine. I just need substance to go with it.

BY THE WAY–If you aren’t following me on my new Instagram account, you are missing out on things like me rapping along to Voltaire to the tune of Fresh Prince, so you should probably get on that.

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Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Desperate to escape his abusive father and the constraints of the civilized life, young Huck Finn fakes his death and, with the help of his slave friend Jim, embarks on a vagabond life rafting down the Mississippi River. Yet life is anything but carefree for Huck and Jim. Their travels bring them into contact with scores of rogues, rascals, ruffians, hucksters, and law-abiding citizens who would as soon seen Jim returned to his owners and Huck to his Pa. Looking out for each other, Huck and Jim forge a bond that protects them from the prejudices and bigotry of their time and place, and a society whose rules and regulations seem as perplexing as they are inflexible.

By turns hilarious and heartwarming, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884, is considered Mark Twain’s masterpiece and one of the greatest novels written on the nineteenth-century American experience.

WHY THIS BOOK WAS BANNED:

The first ban of Mark Twain’s American classic in Concord, MA in 1885 called it “trash and suitable only for the slums.” Objections to the book have evolved, but only marginally. Twain’s book is one of the most-challenged of all time and is frequently challenged even today because of its frequent use of the word “nigger.” Otherwise it is alleged the book is “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.” (bannedbooksweek.org)

I listened to Huck Finn on audiobook several years ago when I had a job that was primarily filing. I remember being terribly confused by the plot because it simultaneously didn’t seem to go anywhere and everywhere at the same time. I figured it was just my inattention to audiobooks and decided I’d try again later to actually read it.

Flash forward to present day, when my handsome leatherbound copy has been sitting unread on my shelf for 3 years now. I have been dreading the reread of this famous novel, but I knew it must be done eventually. Since this week is Banned Book Week, I decided now is as good a time as ever. Grumble Grumble.

Unfortunately, I am apparently still one of the very few people in the world of literature who dislike The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The plot still simultaneously goes nowhere and everywhere at the same time, and the dialects are near impossible to read in visual format (that WAS easier to listen to via audiobook). I mean, even Twain himself says by way of dedication:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

I still haven’t read Tom Sawyer. I know some day I must, but I will drag my feet even harder now. Can you see the ruts?

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James Ellroy: The Black Dahlia

On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a Los Angeles vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia-and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history.Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops, friends, and rivals in love with the same woman. But both are obsessed with the Dahlia-driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to capture her killer, to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of postwar Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl’s twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches-into a region of total madness.

Next week is Banned Books Week, and then we have #OwnVoicesOctober. I’m telling you this because I’ve been so disappointed in my reviews this week and hopefully I can get some decent reads after this. Besides Toni Morrison things have been a little rough around here lately.

I’ve been trying to read The Black Dahlia on my phone a chapter at a time and I have just not been having it. I finally gave up. Noir just isn’t my genre, generally. It’s dark and gritty and incredibly sexist. And it’s always got this horrific voice to it. You know what I mean–it’s always the SAME voice. Cocky-ass detective in a floppy fedora talking about some bird with the legs, trying to solve some murder on poor innocent females.

BD is the same exact voice, same exact theme, except it’s true crime, not something made up. Two boxers-turned-cops in the 40s worked a horrific murder. I didn’t get much further than that, mostly because of the voice. I just couldn’t stand it.

So, nope for this one. At least I can mark it off on the Boxall’s list. Making some progress with that!

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The Master and Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov’s devastating satire of Soviet life was written during the darkest period of Stalin’s regime. Combining two distinct yet interwoven parts—one set in ancient Jerusalem, one in contemporary Moscow—the novel veers from moods of wild theatricality with violent storms, vampire attacks, and a Satanic ball; to such somber scenes as the meeting of Pilate and Yeshua, and the murder of Judas in the moonlit garden of Gethsemane; to the substanceless, circus-like reality of Moscow. Its central characters, Woland (Satan) and his retinue—including the vodka-drinking black cat, Behemoth; the poet, Ivan Homeless; Pontius Pilate; and a writer known only as The Master, and his passionate companion, Margarita—exist in a world that blends fantasy and chilling realism, an artful collage of grotesqueries, dark comedy, and timeless ethical questions.

I can’t do it, you guys. I can’t. I have absolutely zero idea what is happening in this book. And I have TRIED to figure it out. I wanted to show myself that I could read ONE RUSSIAN LITERATURE without failing. This one isn’t that long, right? Surely I could do it.

NOPE.

My one thought while reading this was this:  “This feels like the book that the Bohemians from Moulin Rouge would have written while high (drunk?) on absinthe.”

I’m pretty sure I saw a green fairy once or twice while trying to read it. I got a little more than halfway, but nothing made sense. There were references to Jesus and Pilate, the devil, someone got their head cut off by a street car. One of the men was schizophrenic, and maybe it was all just in his head somewhere.

Blah! I don’t know! Another Russian Lit bites the dust. This was both our AdultBooklr pick of the month AND a Boxall read, so it’s doubly frustrating. It is what it is. On to the next one.

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