Thursday, January 31, 2013

Celebrating 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice

With a flu virus so miserable I haven't even been able to indulge in some escapist reading in bed, this week past week has been a doozy. And while this is a few days late, I would be very remiss if I didn't give a little shout out to one of my most treasured books:

Happy 200th Birthday Pride and Prejudice! Here's to 200 more!

As I've said on this blog before, this novel marked my first experience reading a classic. It was my literary gateway drug. Therefore, I feel like I owe Jane Austen a debt for introducing me to the fabulous world of literature.

Speaking of Jane, I always wonder what she would think of all the Pride and Prejudice madness that endures (and only seems to increase!) so many years later, from Colin Firth in a Wet Shirt to Elizabeth Bennet as a zombie killer. She was so humorous and good natured, I have sneaking suspicion she's find it all rather amusing. Even after 200 years, we certainly haven't become bored with this story.

Somehow, I doubt we ever will.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where I Want to Be, Via Bill Bryson

With so many work projects occupying my time, I haven't been able to indulge in pleasure reading as much as I would wish. Luckily, Bill Bryson has proved to be the perfect read for one who doesn't have, say, an entire afternoon to devote to the perusal of a book. Notes from a Small Island features little vignettes of the author's experiences in Britain, and I still feel like I'm able to fully grasp the essence of the text even if I only read a few pages while eating lunch or a short chapter before turning out the lights for bed.

{Tangential aside: has anybody noticed how difficult this is to achieve with a long novel? For me at least, it's impossible to truly immerse myself in a book like David Copperfield if I can only read small bits here and there. Detailed narratives demand a reader's attention, and if that's not something I'm able to give, I'm doomed to failure -- by which I mean, I set the book aside until a time with fewer distractions presents itself. Thoughts?}

Anyway, Bill Bryson immediately charmed with his description of first arriving in England. He fully captured the excitement, the air of possiblity permeating the atmosphere of one who finally sets foot on a long-desired travel destination. I found myself nodding in agreement as he shares his experience on pg. 15:

Everything that lay before me was new and mysterious and exciting in a way you can't imagine. England was full of words I'd never heard before -- streaky bacon, short back and sides, Belisha beacon, serviettes, high tea, ice cream cornet. I didn't know how to pronounce scone or pasty or Towcester or Slough, I had never heard of Tesco's, Perthshire or Denbighshire, council houses, Morecambe and Wise, railway cuttings, Christmas crackers, bank holidays, seaside rock, milk floats, trunk calls, Scotch eggs, Morris Minors, or Poppy Day. For all I knew, when a car had an L-plate on the back of it, it indicated that it was being driven by a leper. I was positively radiant with ignorance. The simplest transactions were a mystery to me. I saw a man in a newsagent's ask for "twenty Number Six" and receive cigarettes, and presumed for a long time afterward that everything was ordered by number in a newsagent's, like in a Chinese takeaway. I sat for half an hour in a pub before I realized that you had to fetch your own order, then tried the same thing in a tearoom and was told to sit down. 

The tearoom lady called me love. All the shop ladies called me love and most of the men called me mate. I hadn't been here twelve hours and already they loved me. And everyone ate the way I did. This was truly exciting. For years I'd been the despair of my mother because as a left-hander I politely but resolutely declined to eat the American way -- grasping the fork in your left hand to steady the food while cutting, then transferring it to your right hand to lift the food to your mouth. It seemed ridiculously cumbersome, and here suddenly was a whole country that ate the way I did. And people drove on the left! This was paradise. Before the day was half over, I knew that this was where I wanted to be.

Isn't that lovely? It perfectly encapsulates the appeal of the novel and that simultaneous warm feeling of familiarity when you find that, though you've come from far away and know so little, you've found something of yourself as well.

I remember flying into Heathrow all by myself, a scary venture as it was the first time I had traveled anywhere alone. I apprehensively collected my luggage, bought my first Tube ticket and boarded the train. To an American who had never traveled outside the country before, I'm not sure anything was more perplexing than hearing a voice inform me, 'This train is for Cockfosters.'

What the hell was a Cockfoster?! And why was the Underground catering to their transportation needs?

Despite the confused nature of my thoughts, I walked from the Tube station to my new flat utterly content. Everything was new, and yet I felt perfectly at home, like I was coming back to a place I had always known but somehow forgotten. 

Have any of your travels have produced similar sentiments? Have any of you read Bill Bryson's travel memoirs? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


To say that I am currently feeling overwhelmed is an understatement. Professionally speaking, I have quite a bit on my plate at the moment: conferences to apply for, conferences papers that have been accepted need to be revised, student essays must be marked, funding applications filled out, proposals finetuned.

Unforunately, all these tasks seem to be engendering perncious thoughts of self-doubt that attack at the most inopportune times: am I any good at teaching? isn't this conference abstract pure rubbish? who will ever fund this drivel of words masquerading as a proposal? am I doomed to fail at everything in life?!

Oh, the melodrama!

At times like these, I always feel a strong desire to run away, to distance myself from the unpleasantness of a difficult situation. Right now I want to be on the moors, channeling Emily, Charlotte and Anne; especially Emily, who often escaped there herself. Provided a magical internal heater would protect me from all the wuthering, I'd love to sprawl out as the squishiness of the botanical life beneath provides comfortable cushioning, watch the clouds pass overhead and forget these nagging worries. Just simply be.

Then I remember it wasn't too long ago that I didn't have the luxury of stressing myself out about lesson plans or conference presentations. I didn't get to teach and I didn't get to share research with an academic community. While I definitely need to prioritize and work on stress management, isn't it wonderful that I have pursuits in my life that I care about so passionately? Not everybody has that. Many don't have the luxury of working at a job they love or, in this troubled economy, a job at all.(I was in that boat not too long ago!)

So over the next few weeks as I wrestle with managing multiple projects and the consequent anxieties, I'll do my best to remind myself that I'm pretty damn lucky to get to worry about such trivialities.

If all else fails, running away to the moors can always be my Plan B.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sundance Here I Come!

I'm wild with excitement! The Sundance Film Festival begins today, and we have tickets!

Despite having lived in Utah for the majority of my life, I was always under the mistaken impression that one had to be somebody special to get tickets to one of world's most famous film festivals. Luckily for us, some tickets are reserved for locals, we signed up early, and my family and I will be attending four screenings over the next two weeks.

Today we'll be seeing Austenland (pictured above), an adaptation of Shannon Hale's novel concerning Austenitis at its most extreme. I can't wait to get up to Park City, see the movie, and just enjoy the overall atmosphere.

I'll definitely be providing updates about the festival, whether I spot any noteworthy celebs (generally, by my definition, those who have starred in beloved period pieces), and providing a few pictures. In the meantime, I wish you a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Poetry: The Food of Love or Faux Pas?

'I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!'

'I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,' said Darcy.

'Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.'

-- Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice

Lately I've been wondering about the role poetry plays in dating, my thoughts on which begin with a little story.

Picture this:

A friend of mine recently went on a date which seemed to be going well: the conversation flowed, there was that spark of attraction which painful encounters lack. An invitation back to the date's Brooklyn apartment presented itself, and my friend accepted. 

Things were going very well!

Until suddenly the date in question, without encouragement of any kind, pulled out poetry that had been published in a small magazine and proceeded to read it aloud. 

My friend politely listened, silently wondering when she could make her escape without breaching the laws of etiquette or wounding tender feelings, when the date decided it was time to abandon poetry and play the guitar.

It was the final nail in the coffin. As far as I know, there has been no successive date. (Shocker!)

Sadly my friend is not alone in this predicament, for a similar occurrence happened to me. Perfectly normal conversations have been soiled by my unwelcome, and uninvited, subjection to poems about death. Because nothing says romance like melancholy writings on mortality? There I was, uncomfortably twiddling my thumbs while speculating how to respond without indicating that I wanted to hear more. I just wanted to get away; far, far away!

All this leads me to wonder if this sort of event transpires with frequency. In the intellectual/reader/writer/student dating pool, do overeager individuals often torment potential partners with similarly awkward encounters? 

I consider this to be a big no-no when it comes to dating (and social interactions in general for that matter). Perhaps it's motivated by a desire to bare one's soul to an object of attraction, but it comes off as vain and conceited. And if the poetry in question is bad, it comes off as groundlessly narcissistic in the grand tradition of Don Quixote.

Here's the dilemma: how does one appropriately respond to the song that sounds like nails on a chalkboard or the short story featuring the grammatical competency of a twelve-year-old? Do you proffer slight compliments? Offer an honest critique? Or do you simply say, 'Well, this has been fun, but I really must get home to shampoo my hair'?

No, no, just no. Particularly in the early stages of a relationship, I feel it's only considerate to wait for an invitation to share one's art. 

Elizabeth's right. There's no surer way to kill 'a slight, thin sort of inclination' than to read one's poetry uninvited. It only takes one sonnet. If you save that sonnet for when your significant other is already hopelessly in love, surely the rose-colored glasses will lead them to assure you of its brilliance...even if it's rubbish. 

Thoughts? Has this happened to anybody else out there? Are Elizabeth and I in the right, or do you agree with Darcy?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

End of Year Book Survey 2012

As mentioned in my Classics Club Readathon post, I picked up Anthony Trollope. I didn't get far before having to set it aside for work. Currently I'm investigating nineteenth-century sexuality in literature, so I've been reading some...colorful (for lack of a better word) texts as a result. 

Full confession: I'm starting to feel like a pervert!

Yes, it's all in the name of the research, but reading about a man who essentially sexually abuses the girl he's raised as a daughter yet has no qualms about it (as I've been doing this weekend) does tend to leave a bitter taste in one's mouth. 

And don't even get me started on the looks of inquisitive surprise the librarians give me as they hand over these 'colorful' inter-library loans. Time to cleanse my literary palate.

I thought now would be a good time to reminisce about the wonderful literature I read in 2012. While it's a bit woefully late, here are my responses to the questions posed by Jamie for her annual end of year survey.

Best book you read in 2012?

I Capture the Castle! As soon as I read Dodie Smith's memorable opening line, 'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,' I was hooked. After devouring it in a matter of hours on New Year's Eve 2011, I wondered how any book could top it. Though I experienced some fantastic new stories throughout the year, no book ever did. Top it, that is. The delightfully quirky characters, the prose that creeps under skin, the charm of the castle in ruins: everything about this book enchanted me. This is an instant favourite I look forward to reading again and again...and again

More after the jump...

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Classics Club Readathon

The Classics Club Readathon is here! Unfortunately, I won't be able to dedicate the whole day to reading literary gems, but I'll spend as much time as I can indulging in snippets of genius here and there.

After much indecision and abrupt changing of mind on my part, I've finally decided on The Warden by Anthony Trollope.

Funnily enough, the novel's successor, Barchester Towers, has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I bought it thinking it wasn't necessary to read the series in chronological order, but some astute reviews on Trollope convinced me otherwise. Once my painful ban on book buying was lifted, The Warden was one of my first purchases. I can't wait to properly dig in, so to speak, and only hope that I like Trollope as much as I hope I will.

I might not update this post again during the readathon and opt instead to focus on the literature. Nevertheless, I'll try to share a few thoughts on twitter. Yet even as I write this, fatigue is quickly setting in, so I best get going.

Happy reading, fellow Classic Club members! I look forward to hearing about your reading choices. So many wonderful classics, so little time....

Friday, January 04, 2013


Before I set forth resolutions for 2013, I'd like to review 2012, what I accomplished and how well I adhered to my resolutions

My reading goal was forty texts, for which I was far ahead of schedule until I started my job. I ended up finishing just short of my ambitions, but that's okay. More than anything, I wanted to increase the quality of my reading while broadening my horizons, and I did that. Hurrah!

Here's a more detailed recap of my reading goals:

Read 40 texts. I completed 36. Since I failed to reach fifty percent of my reading goal in 2011 (I blame all that literary criticism -- what a distraction!) and more or less abandoned pleasure reading with the commencement of my job, I'm fairly pleased with this result.

Read more non-fiction. I kicked some major ass here and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. I read seven non-fiction books this year, which accounts for nearly twenty percent of my reading. What an improvement. These ranged from author biographies (Bill Bryson's Shakespeare) to essays on reading (Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman). Hopefully this trend continues in 2013.

Read more poetry and drama. I read two books of poetry (Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Barrett Browning) and two Oscar Wilde plays. Not a bad start on the whole. The good news is I've recently been accumulating some texts that fall under these categories by writers such as John Keats and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, so I'm gearing myself up for continued growth in this area.

Read more 20th century/contemporary fiction. Again, major success! In the past I've been drawn to awful YA fiction when not in the mood for Victorian density. Not to say that there's no merit in this genre -- there is -- but more often than not I'd finish a YA novel wishing I hadn't wasted my time. So, I promised myself I'd seek out higher quality literature for my escapist reads, and I'm happy to say I've experienced few reading regrets this year as a result. Nearly a third of this year's texts are literary 20th century/contemporary publications, and I'm pleased to report I  found some new all-time favourites (e.g, I Capture the Castle; this book is, without question, the bee's knees).

Here's the funny thing: while I'm proud to have pushed myself outside my comfort zone, I feel as though I barely read from the long nineteenth century at all. Nevertheless, the Victorians accounted for nearly one fourth of my reading. This goes to show how much I rely on them. Maybe I'll shift this year's focus back to my beloved era. 

Read from my Classics Club list. I read eight titles from this exhaustive list. I need to quicken the pace.

Read from libraries. Don't buy books. Ha! I was doing quite well with this until I generated an income and decided to reward myself with (what else?) multiple trips to the bookstore. Also, I received gift cards for my birthday; and books you didn't technically buy yourself surely don't count, right?

Despite my hopeless book-buying compulsion, I read nine texts that had been sitting on my shelf for some time. 21 were borrowed, either from friends or the library. Only four were texts I purchased this year. Not too shabby. Of course, this doesn't account for all the books I bought but haven't yet read, but I'd rather not count those at the moment....

Right, that's the books. Now let's move on to general resolutions:

Get published. No, not yet. I'm still working on this one. I did, however, present at my first academic conference this fall and have two more on the horizon. 

Get creative with cooking. Success! I wanted to try various vegetarian recipes this year. Not only did I do that, I managed to convince my resolutely omnivorous family that meat-free dishes can be tasty too. Over the past months I've tried the following:

Chana masala with cream and extra veggies
Sweet potato curry
Goat cheese pasta by Giada de Laurentiis 
Quinoa-stuffed zucchini boats
Mexican quinoa with black beans and cilantro
Roast potatoes (for Christmas dinner, obviously)

Visit a Literary Mecca. No literary pilgrimage for me in 2012. I had to content myself with local mini-breaks, but I'm not complaining. It was lovely to get away for as long as I did, and I can look forward to holidays further from home in 2013. 

Earn money of some sort. Success! Not only did I get a job, I'm finally on the career ladder I want to climb. 

Get in shape. Ha! That's all I have to say on the subject.

I have some photos from 2012 to share, but that will have to wait for another post. How did you fare with your 2012 resolutions?

Thursday, January 03, 2013

I'm Not Dead

A recent visit to the farm

Despite what my prolonged absence from cyberspace might suggest, I am, indeed, alive and well. 

I never mentioned it here on the blog, but this past August I was hired as adjunct faculty at a local university, and I recently completed my first semester as an instructor of intermediate writing. The past four months have been stressful, overwhelming, time-consuming...and profoundly gratifying. It's a relief to learn that, after years of education and a pile of student loans, I'm on the right career path!

Needless to say, I've dreadfully neglected this space as I've adjusted to my new job. I hope to change that, but I've also been considering what I want this blog to be. I love books! I love blogging about them and reading what others in the blogosphere have to say about literature. I talk about books with friends, family, students and co-workers. But as much as I love them, occasionally I'd like to discuss other topics. I have other creative endeavours in mind. 

So, at the risk of boring my minute readership to tears, visitors will be seeing a variety of posts here. Yes, I will absolutely continue to write about books. Literature is too big a part of who I am. Be prepared, however, for blurbs on the fabulous film I saw, the photos I snapped, or my recent holiday. Such things have appeared here before, but I always felt this mysterious restraint when it came to writing about other topics regularly. Which is downright silly. The culture that shapes me isn't limited to literature, so why am I limiting my posts? From now on I will be free to write about whatever strikes my fancy! If any of you would like to join me in the journey, that would be swell.

(Swell? Not sure where that came from. Hmm....)

I have a couple of New Year posts planned, but I wanted to explain my silence first. I hope you all enjoyed a happy holiday season with loved ones! I look forward to reading about your resolutions and reading goals for 2013.