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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Han Kang–Human Acts

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a rare and astonishing (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

This book.

Deep Exhale.

This book is a ghost story. To read this book is to experience the mass casualty that overcomes a city in war. We see both sides–from the living and bereaved–trying to find closure in a city building overcome with overflowing death. We see, too, through the blind eyes of a trapped soul, panicking under the press of rot and gore, unable to release himself from the body that no longer lives.

And that is only the beginning.

This book is a ghost story–and there are so many ghosts. There are only 218 pages, but I could not read this for more than a few minutes at a time without putting my bookmark in and just breathing. I could not cry because I felt like every emotion I had was sucked right out of me.

I’m not sure how to describe this book–beautiful? amazing? great? All of those words could fit but mostly it just tore me to shreds. This short book is exhausting to read and in literature that is the exact opposite of a negative review. Just be prepared when you go into this. Han Kang does not need to waste 500 pages on dramatic world-building, she can do it in a whisper. You will be haunted by Human Acts. This book is a ghost story.

This book was provided by Blogging for Books and Hogarth for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Jacqueline Woodson: Feathers

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more holy.”There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’is not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light:—her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for the thing with feathers.”

Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.

Oh Jacqueline Woodson, you strike again. When I read Brown Girl DreamingI added this one to my TBR right away. I fell in love with her poetry and wanted to read more of her incredible writing.

I was not disappointed. Feathers is prose instead of poetry, but it is just as gorgeous. Written for middle-grade, her story combines so many different facets into a book under 150 pages. We see a young girl learning about life alongside a mother with depression and a brother who is deaf, and that gives her a unique outlook when a new boy comes to school needing a bit of compassion.

This is for sure going on my list of books to recommend when my parent friends reach out to me for their kids. If you have a child in middle school, definitely add this to your shelves.

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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.

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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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I won a copy of this book from Hogarth Books in their Read It Forward newsletter. This post contains affiliate links.

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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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Louise Erdrich: The Round House

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

When I mentioned to a Twitter friend that I haven’t read much Native American fiction, she recommended Louise Erdrich, among others. I found I’d had some of her books already on my TBR, I just didn’t realize she was an #OwnVoices author! Well, of course she had to make the list for this month.

The Round House covers some intense topics. Rape is an extreme danger to Native American women–1 out of every 3 will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime (per the author’s note). Erdrich shows just how horrifying that experience can be. Not only are their attackers usually non-native men, but the victims also receive prejudices from law enforcement and hospitals.

“Don’t you Indians have your own hospital over there?”

UGH. Doesn’t that just make your skin crawl? It did mine. I wanted to climb into the pages and smack a bitch.

I did struggle quite a bit to connect to this book. I’m never a huge fan of dialogue-heavy books that don’t use quotation marks–I find that writing style hard to follow. What is speech and what is not? But I don’t think that was really the issue. I think I was just distracted. The last few days have been really news-packed and so it has been hard to pull my eyes away from the Twitterfeed. That is never conducive to heavy reading. Plus, I’ve read some very hard hitters right in a row. This may have to be a book I come back to in a few years and see if I feel differently. For now, though, not my favorite. I still have a few of her books on my list and we’ll see if I have a more positive reaction.

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Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.
Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.
A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.

I could not participate in an event such as #OwnVoicesOctober without reading a personal slave narrative. This country was founded on the backs of women and men such as Harriet Jacobs, and it’s so important to hear their stories. Harriet’s has been in my Kindle for a long time now, and so this was a good week to finally read about her journey.

It’s amazing what you will learn when you open your heart to listen. In my head I know that slavery was awful, all of it was awful, but still sometimes it gets so romanticized that I lose track. The Mammy trope, the stoic, loyal butler. That is a weakness–the ingrained prejudices that come to haunt me. But then I read Harriet’s story, and it slams that door shut so hard. Sometimes I just need a slap across the face, you know? This is that kind of book.

There’s a section of the book where she is talking about her own story, versus that of other slaves. Her master, Dr. Flint, has written a letter to her to convince her to come home while she is in hiding. The slimey bastard talks about how she is family and how if she comes back she’ll be treated like one of their own, she isn’t a slave, not really. It’s pretty gross. And Harriet’s response to us the reader is that yes, she knows that to many people, the perception could be that her life is pretty good at Dr. Flint’s. She doesn’t get beaten, she isn’t working the fields. She eats well, she dresses well, and she has most of her family around her. But she is still a slave. She is still at the mercy of Dr. Flint, who sexually abuses her and thinks it is ok because he owns her. She still has to worry about her children being sold away from her–and used as leverage.

A slave was a slave was a slave. Yes, some masters cared about their slaves and not every one was beaten horribly, but they were still slaves. And we owe it to them to remember that. This is why I read these books every so often. I need the reminder, I need the help. It’s the way I’m going to get that ingrained prejudice out of my system. Constant vigilance.

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