Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Penguin English Library Project

After administering a final exam on Monday, my spring semester is nearly over -- there's just some marking to do! Since I won't be teaching over the summer, I decided it would be worthwhile to take on a new reading project. Also, I desperately need to catch up on the bookish goals that were pushed to the backburner while school's been in session. When I saw O post this list of classics from The Penguin English Library, I instantly knew I wanted to make a project of it.

Like Emma Woodhouse, I make a good list but often have trouble following through. However, this list mirrors my general reading tastes while pushing me in some new directions. I think it will urge me to open some titles that I might otherwise neglect but are nevertheless pertinent to my research interests. I'll be working on this alongside my Classics Club project.

Without further ado, here it is...

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
4. Persuasion by Jane Austen
5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
7. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
8. Emma by Jane Austen
9. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
11. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
12. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
13. Dracula by Bram Stoker
14. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
15. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
16. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
17. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
18. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
19. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
20. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
21. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
22. Middlemarch by George Eliot
23. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
24. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
25. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
26. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
27. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
28. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
29. The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
30. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
31. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
32. Silas Marner by George Eliot
33. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
34. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
35. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
36. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
37. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
38. Howard's End by E.M. Forster
39. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
40. The Five Orange Pips and Other Cases by Arthur Conan Doyle
41. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
42. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
43. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
44. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
45. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
46. New Grub Street by George Gissing
47. A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
48. The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells
49. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
50. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
51. Evelina by Frances Burney
52. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
53. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
54. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
55. Dubliners by James Joyce
56. The Monk by Matthew Lewis
57. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
58. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
59. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
60. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
61. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
62. Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
63. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
64. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
65. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
66. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
67. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
68. Wives and Daughters Elizabeth Gaskell
69. Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding
70. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
71. Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
72. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
73. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
74. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
75. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
76. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
77. Pamela by Samuel Richardson
78. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
79. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
80. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
81. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
82. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
83. Barnaby Brudge by Charles Dickens
84. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
85. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
86. The Warden by Anthony Trollope
87. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
88. Washington Square by Henry James
89. The Confidence-Man and Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
90. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
91. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
92. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
93. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
94. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
95. Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope
96. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
97. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
98. Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
99. Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
100. Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett

The titles I've already read are presented in bold. With 33 completed I've made a respectable start but have quite a few new titles to dig into as well. Are any favourites of yours on this list?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mr Selfridge

Since the tragic decline of Downton Abbey (oh, what a waste!), there's hasn't been much in the way of period drama to attract my attention. Recent adaptations of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End and Emile Zola's The Ladies' Paradise still haven't made their way to my side of the pond, nor has the second series of the poignant Call the Midwife. I've been feeling the lack of new material keenly.

Fortunately, the compelling Mr. Selfridge recently began broadcasting to American audiences. I've only watched the first four hours (all that's currently available), but thus far it's quite engaging and provides a sorely needed dose of period drama. Recounting the rise of Harry Gordon Selfridge's London department store and how it transformed the shopping experience, the series follows the socialiite world into which Mr. Selfridge attempts to ingratiate himself and the lower-middle-class workers under his employ.

Jeremy Piven does a wonderful job portraying the nuances of a man who is both charismatic and deeply flawed, but already I'm deeply invested in the narrative arcs of many female characters. Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus), an accessories assistant who attempts to rise above the difficulties presented by a troubled family life, is an especial favourite. So is Lady Mae (Katherine Kelly), a former actress who now oversees London society with her masterful powers of manipulation. Ultimately, I'm most intrigued by the series' respresentation of women who negotiate (subtly or forcefully) for empowerment in a world that couldn't offer evolved gender roles quickly enough.

The discussion of clothing, accessories and design are also a real treat to a viewer who craves immersion in Edwardian England. These little details alone make the show worth watching!

 Selfridge's, Oxford Street, on its opening day in 1909

Have you seen Mr. Selfridge? If so, what did/do you think? (No spoilers, please! I'd like to be surprised. :))

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

It's not you, it's me.

This trite phrase has become the ultimate dating cliche, but it effectively summarizes my experience reading The Grand Sophy. Georgette Heyer's knack for comedy and memorable characterization makes her novels the ultimate escapism for Regency nuts like me, and I've sung her praises since I randomly picked up Arabella a few years ago. This time, unfortunately, she just didn't delight me the way she usually does.


It's not her fault, it's mine. Really it is. Having heard The Grand Sophy touted as an absolute favourite among Heyer fans, I sought solace in its pages when going through an especially difficult few weeks. If anybody could lift my spirits, I thought, it would be Georgette Heyer.

And she did...a bit. The heroine's tenacity and special knack for rearranging others' affairs to her own satisfaction certainly amused me. Particularly humorous passages had me laughing out loud. Still, my Depths of Despair spirit (a la Anne Shirley) undoubtedly clouded the entire reading experience, making me relatively blind to Sophy's titular grandeur. I simply wasn't in the right emotional state to properly enjoy the many literary fruits Heyer has to offer. 

Please forgive me, Georgette! It's not you, it's me!

Nevertheless, I want to share a bit of the novel that did get through to me. Mr. Fawnhope, a prospective poet so preoccupied with his supposed genius he is utterly oblivious to the world around him, cheered me up whenever he appeared on the page. In the following quote, his sorta-kinda betrothed Cecilia finds herself tiring of Mr. Fawnhope's unflagging narcissism:

Mr. Fawnhope's conversation [was], at present, almost wholly confined to the scope and nature of his great tragedy. To listen to a poet arguing with himself -- for [Cecilia] could scarcely have been said to have borne any part in the discussion -- on the merits of blank verse as a dramatic medium was naturally a privilege of which any young lady must be proud, but there could be no denying that to talk for half an hour to a man who listened with interest to anything she said was, if not precisely a relief, certainly a welcome variation in her life. 

Moments like these made the reading unequivocally worthwhile, but I look forward to revisitng The Grand Sophy at a time when I'm more receptive to its charms.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Old Movies

Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in

I don't know what it is about old movies, but I'm crazy about them. They evoke happy childhood memories of family togetherness and make me feel nostalgic for the seeming simplicity of former times. Still, it's difficult to articulate what it is about the films themselves I love so dearly, but I turn one on whenever I crave warmth and cosiness. Somehow they make me feel all the comforts of home before the opening credits conclude.

Recently some new (or old) gems have been discovered. I saw The Shop Around the Corner (the film on which You've Got Mail was based) for the first time and found it to be a delight. My brother emphatically declared, 'This movie is feel-good awesome!' At my friend's insistence we watched The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer which also enchanted me. I heartily recommend both.

I do, however, feel that I need to delve into the wonderful world of classic film more thoroughly. Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart have always been firm favourites in our house, but upon reflection I see I've watched little besides iconic, popular classics. Which old movies do you love most? Please pass on your recommendations. I see an Old Movie Marathon in my near future!

Monday, April 08, 2013

Essays of Elia: My 'New' Antiquarian Treasure

Since reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I've been dying to get my hands on this collection of essays by Charles Lamb. This text sets the novel in motion and forges bonds between the characters. 

I fell in love with this nineteenth-century edition as soon as I laid eyes on it at a charming antique shop in Park City. Sadly I was jobless (ahem, broke) at the time, so fortune compelled me to leave it on the shelves. When I spotted it again during the Sundance Film Festival, I snatched it right up! When I saw that the book had waited for me to return, I sentimentally concluded we were literary soul mates. 

I haven't had time to read it yet, but I believe Charles Lamb would be perfect on a leisurely, sunshiny sort of day. As an animal studies fanatic, I'm especially anticipating the infamous 'A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig,' and I'm sure Lamb's other literary gems will also delight me. 

Behold! My new baby!

Floral cover

The book features no discernible year of publication, 
but the inscription dates from 1897:
Presented to Mattie Read by the Twenty-First Ward
Primary Association as a Token of Thanks, Appreciation and a
Memento of Feb. 18 and 19, 1897

Title page

'Mankind...for the first seventy thousand ages ate their meat raw,
clawing or biting it from the living animal, just as they do in Abyssinia to this day.'

Monday, April 01, 2013

I Have Been...

Poppy Field Near Vetheuil (1879) by Claude Monet

Finished The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer yesterday.
Just ordered Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.
Bibliotherapy continues. :)

Academic work on Elizabeth Gaskell
and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 
(Three cheers for all the great Elizabeths!)

 At flowers, buds and plants.
Currently obsessed by all flora and fauna.

Regina Spektor's Samson. So haunting!
 Bach's various string compositions. So invigorating!

Emma. This adaptation is sunshine for my soul:

 Discouraged by my recent past yet hopeful for my future.
Also, hungry. Time for a snack.

 The imminent blooming of our tulips.
A forthcoming holiday in June.

Percy. Poor thing hurt his paw today, 
but he's revelled in the extra attention. 
Dogs are the best.

Monday, March 25, 2013


My haul

I've been feeling rather rotten lately and -- what's worse! -- feeling sorry for myself because I feel rotten. Lots of feelings, few of them benign. At times like these I do what any self-respecting bibliophile does: I buy books! I don't need them. I won't even read them immediately. But damnit, I need some bibliotherapy*!! 

I took myself to my local Barnes and Noble on Saturday, accompanied by a short list of books from my wish list. None of them were in stock. Not one! With my brother by my side, I lamented about the many woes of being a reader whose tastes are far superior to the general reading public while I marched towards the magazines to pick up the latest issue of Marie Claire. [Editor's note: Snob? Hypocrite? Probably both.]

Luckily I found a lovely anthology of P.G. Wodehouse fiction just before closing time. While I've been enamored with the Blandings stories for several years now (I pay homage to him here), I still haven't read any Jeeves. Luckily for me, this charming edition contains two Jeeves novels and one collection of short stories: Joy in the Morning; Very Good, Jeeves!; and Right Ho, Jeeves. According to the blurb on the back, 'P.G. Wodehouse is the gold standard of English wit.' I agree! Looking forward to digging into this one, and the cover is so cute...  

I also stumbled upon a bargain priced edition of The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. This non-fiction text focuses on James Murray, head of the 1887 committee formed to compile the OED, who is surprised to learn that one of the chief contributors to the project is an imprisoned murderer. Gripping material, indeed.

Needless to say, I left the store (haul in one hand, frappuccino in the other) a happy camper. What is it about buying books that boosts one's serotonin levels? Normally I frown upon retail addictions, but how can one argue against a propensity to buying what will actually provide a valuable experience and, ideally anyway, an increase in knowledge (as opposed to the new top that will be out of style in six months)? I mean, really.

Jane Austen also gave me a large dose of medicinal wit. Ah, Jane! I can always count on you. One cable channel thoughtfully broadcast the BBC Pride and Prejudice all weekend long. Consequently, I spent most of it in bed indulging in the following: overdosing on Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, overdosing on Daniel Vincent Gordh as Darcy in the latest episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which I've watched more times than I care to admit), or reading Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy which features a Darcyesque hero. And you know, between my new haul and the inundation of all things Darcy, I feel infinitely better today than I did on Friday.
Bibliotherapy to the rescue! :)

Have you read anything from my haul? Do you have books or adaptations you turn to when feeling down in the dumps? If so, please pass on your recommendations.

*I have shamefully stolen this quaint term from Rachel of BookSnob and Old Fashioned Girls.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Spring Reading Update

Tuscan Spring 2011

Praise to the gods who urged man, with all his faults, to instate the practice of spring break! I am halfway through my own now, and I'm revelling in the glorious relaxation and enjoyment of spring it has allowed. Hallelujah!

With an entire week at my disposal I've been luxuriating in balmy spring weather during meandering walks with the dogs, sleeping in every morning, visiting with friends, watching old classics (think Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant)...and reading! So far this year I've had little time to read for pleasure, and I've felt the absence keenly. Only now have I had the chance to sit and enjoy a book, and it. is. heaven.

The only literary dilemma I've faced this week is the overwhelming confusion about what book to pick up. So many books are calling to me, and narrowing it down to one at a time has been the most arduous task. Though I'm reading at an idle pace to suit my relaxed disposition, I'm making more progress on my reading goals than I have all year.

I finished Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman the other day and thoroughly enjoyed it. Rave reviews from Simon and Claire urged me to pick her up, and I'm pleased I followed their advice. While I certainly didn't agree with all of Moran's views, I more often found myself nodding while reading with a 'Just So!' sort of spirit. In any case, her snarky delivery makes reading a treat, and I'm sorely tempted to pick up Moranthology (apparently a collection of her journalistic pieces) immediately. However, I'm not sure yet another book on my tbr pile is what I need at the moment, so it'll have to wait. More thoughts on this one later.

I deliberated long and hard before selecting Moran's successor. Should I go with a classic? Something that related to my research in order to kill two birds with one stone? In the end, I chose the text that I thought would make me happiest right now: The Grand Sophy. A good Georgette Heyer novel never fails to perk me up, and she matches the spring liveliness I'm experiencing at the moment. Nearly a third of the way through it, I find myself experiencing the little pleasures of Regency London life along with the characters. I'm riding spirited bays through Hyde Park in the afternoon and dressing in that new gown before attending an assembly at Almack's in the evening. It's just the sort of escape I need at the moment.

I'm not sure what's up next on the reading agenda, but I hope to get going with my Classics Spin! selection before the week is out: Maria Edgeworth's Patronage. Regency novels seem to be the order of the day, but I'd also like to read a text that truly reflects the season, like The Secret Garden or The Wind in the Willows. (Both are languishing on the shelves.) Ah, decisions!

What are you reading right now? Anything you'd recommend?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Resolute (2013 Edition)

Percy is clearly apprehensive about the New Year
...or the fact that I'm smothering him. Hard to say.

Yes, I am aware that we are now racing through March and spring is well on its way, but nevertheless I wanted to write down my New Year's resolutions. I mentally formed these a while ago, around New Year's, in fact! (Fancy that.) Last year I found it infinitely helpful to refer back to my resolutions post as a means of checking progress and motivating myself to continue toward set goals when I felt in a rut, and I'm keen to continue that in 2013.

In true nerd fashion, I adore making goals, any excuse to write up a list, etc. That extends to New Year's resolutions. I liked what Claire from The Captive Reader had to say about this increasingly controversial practice, that she saw no need to form resolutions since she's already perfectly happy. And to some extent, I agree. I am happy! Still, I am an individual excited and motivated by the idea of improvement, especially self-improvement. Setting out to make changes for the better thrills me to no end. 

Really, I truly believe they can be great for the majority of us. They gear us up for new experiences at a time when most of us are feeling like we could use a boost. (For the record, I blame holiday treat overload for this effect.) Provided an individual steers clear of resolutions one loathes yet feels inexplicably compelled to make -- this is when many a gym membership is compulsively purchased then just as swiftly forgotten -- I wholly endorse the practice. Hurrah for resolutions! 

First up are my reading resolutions...

Read 45 texts. Last year I fell just short of my goal to read 40 texts, so I'm being slightly optimistic here. I'm perfectly aware I might not achieve this at all. And that's okay. Having my goal in mind last year often served as a gentle reminder to put down the remote control and pick up a book. It spurred me on or kept me going when suffering through a reading drought or in the middle of a dud. I'm setting this resolution with the view that it will provide much needed encouragement whether I meet the ultimate goal or not.

Get back to the classics! Last year I wanted to spread my wings by veering into twentieth-century and contemporary literature, experience the literary world outside my little box. I did, and it was great!

Come December though, I wanted to go back to my roots. I missed my crazy Victorians! (They still accounted for nearly 25% of my 2012 reading, so the fact that I felt their absence says something quite worrying about my psyche, I think.) The eighteenth-century was virtually abandoned, and I want to incorporate those writers back into my reading habits as well. It was great moving away from my comfort zone, but this year I'd like to refocus on my chief interests -- and make some major progress on my Classics Club list while I'm at it. 

Poetry and drama. In 2012 I pinpointed several new genres I wanted to explore and had great success in some of these, especially nonfiction. While I did read some poetry and drama, these formats weren't delved into with the depth I would have liked, so I'm reiterating this goal for 2013. After receiving some gift cards for my October birthday, I picked up some new titles under these categories: The School for Scandal and the major works of John Keats among them. I have no excuse to neglect poetry and drama this year.

Children's classics. When I worked at a bookstore I took advantage of the employee discount by accumulating as many items as my meagre paycheck would allow, and I collected some great children's classics during this time. 

I haven't read any of them. 

It's time to stop making excuses and finally finish The Secret Garden despite any distractions. Time to open The Jungle Book. Treasure Island. Peter Pan. Multiple novels by Jules Verne. Simply typing out these titles whets my literary appetite. Why haven't I done this before?

Literary nonfiction. While I made great headway in this genre last year, there's still room for improvement. I have multiple author biographies sitting forlornly on my shelves, accounts of my beloved eras or their monarchs, etc. that call for my attention. I'm especially looking forward to Claire Tomalin's recent biography on Charles Dickens, another recent addition to my library.

And now for my general resolutions...

Take a photography class. I've gleefully been snap happy lately, and I'd like to learn how to use the fabulous camera I received for Christmas. I mean, I kinda, sorta know how to use it...but not really.

Get published. I set this goal last year and failed, but I'll keep plugging away at it. To be fair, I have spoken at three conferences in the past four months and was accepted to present at another this summer. Progress, slow but steady progress. 

Fill up my personal journal. Blogging is a fantastic way to document life and its experiences, but I still need to make time to express those private thoughts and feelings.

Make time for cultural activities that make me happy. I simply adore museums, theatre, and traveling. The stimulation they provide adds significantly to my happiness. Basically, if I'm mentally bored, I'm miserable. Yet I often make excuses about why I can never make time for these things: I'm too busy with work, I don't have the money right now, there's nothing good around at the moment, etc., etc., etc. 

Enough with the excuses! I need to make it a priority. Progress has already been made in this arena, particularly with my recent visits to the ballet. I'm looking forward to more of these experiences throughout the year. 

Organization/Stress Management. Guys, I'm posting my New Year's resolutions in mid-March which speaks volumes. Organization seems to be my Achilles' Heel. Despite my best efforts, I always seem to be frazzled, stressed, feeling like I'm eight tasks behind. If I can conjure up an organizational system that works for me and focus on remaining calm when under pressure, I'll be more at ease in every aspect of my life.

Be Kinder. This is a lifelong goal. While I consider myself to be a fairly nice person as it is, I think it's useful to always be mindful of how I treat others and aim to speak and act with kindness to everybody, especially those I love.

I'm sure you're all much more organized than I am and posted resolutions in January. How are they going so far?

Friday, March 08, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Funky Tights

Spring weather is on its way to my area, but it's taking its sweet time making a full entrance. Tights are still a necessity for my skinny little chicken legs, but basic black bores me if I overuse it. Though I don't consider myself to be a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination, I maintain patterned and colorful tights spruce up an otherwise ordinary outfit. They help me feel a bit cool (or as cool as a tried-and-true geek like me can get!) when I need a confidence boost. The tights pictured above have been a staple since the New Year, and I recently bought this hot pink/heart patterned variety for a dash of color. They remind me of something the Queen of Hearts might wear...if she were into pink instead of red.

Don't you love how I connect even the most unrelated topics back to literature? ;)

I hope you have a happy weekend!