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!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Barrett Browning!

I'm a few hours late to the game on this, since Elizabeth Barret Browning's birthday occurred yesterday. Yet after a reminder from Oxford World's Classics, I would feel quite remiss not giving her a little shout out:

Happy 207th Birthday, Elizabeth!

The Birthplace: Coxhoe Hall, Durham

One of my dissertation chapters focused on EBB, as I fondly refer to her in my notes. In studying the relationship with her spaniel, Flush, I felt I got to know her a little bit as well -- particularly through the perusal of her letters. Her passion and zeal immiediately won me over. Reading details about her secret courtship with Robert Browning and their plans to run away together felt both like reading a sensational novel and like I was intruding upon the privacy of a lovely couple (and actually, I suppose I was).

With spring break happily dawning before my eyes, I'm hoping to read her long poem Aurora Leigh. Though with my holiday reading list growing like a proverbial weed, I must concede this ambition may never materialize. In the meantime, I shall leave you with one of her poems about Flush, one that's not as widely read. A wonderful canine companion, he comforted her, just as her words provide solace and inspiration to readers two centuries later.

Flush or Faunus

YOU see this dog. It was but yesterday
I mused, forgetful of his presence here, 
Till thoughts on thoughts drew downward tear on tear;
When from the pillow, where wet-cheeked I lay,
A head, as hairy as Faunus, thrust his way
Right sudden against my face; two golden-clear
Large eyes astonished mine; a drooping ear
Did flap me on either cheek, to dry the spray!
I started first, as some Arcadian,
Amazed by goatly god in twilight grove.
But as my bearded vision closelier ran
My tears off, I knew Flush, and rose above
Surprise and sadness; thanking the true Pan,
Who, by low creatures, leads to heights of love.

The last line is my favourite! I'm tempted to make some saccharine analogies about how we are all low creatures and love and art lift us to the great heights Barrett Browning describes...but I'll spare you. Have a happy Thursday!

P.S. This intriguing article discusses the various words attributed to EBB in the OED, abandonment and goatly among them. I guess only a few of them stuck? :)

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Cinderella: An Evening at the Ballet

Ballet West First Soloist Haley Henderson Smith
as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother

Something you may not know about me: I'm a bunhead at heart. I adore the romance and spectable of the ballet. The grace of the dancers, the glamour of the costumes, the emotion in the music: each aspect of it enchants me.

Several months ago I realized that despite this ardour, I hadn't attended a ballet in...well, more years than I'd care to admit! With resolve to make cultural activities a bigger priority and a generous birthday present from my family, I've reacquainted myself with this charming art form. Utah has a wonderful ballet company: Ballet West, subject of the recent reality show Breaking Pointe. It would be a downright shame to not take advantage of it when it's in such close proximity.

Recently Ballet West put on a lovely production of Cinderella, and I revelled in every moment of it. Hilarious and grotesque, the evil stepsisters (traditionally played by men) provided a wealth of comedic moments. An aloof Wellington and surprisingly flexible Napoleon made memorable appearances as potential suitors. The lifts in the pas de deux stunned me, and the beauty of this moment overwhelmed me so much I found myself fighting back tears. It was all utterly magical! (As any production of Cinderella worth its salt should be!)

Next up for Ballet West is George Balanchine's Jewels, an event I eagerly anticipate. I recommend going if you're in the area. In the meantime, here are a few photos from the evening...

Excellent advice!
Sometimes I enjoy the theatre itself as much as the production
Someday I will watch the show from box seats
Reluctantly leaving the theatre