Wednesday, June 8, 2011

May Reading

May came with lots of reading--11 books total. The first half of the month was quiet, quite rainy and unusually chilly. The second half was busy with travel and substantially warmer. Nevertheless, I used both my at home time and my driving time to read.

I listened to Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the first time. Honestly, this was my first ever reading of a Dahl book. I also listened to Anne of Green Gables for the first time. I absolutely loved it. I've long been a fan of the movie, but somehow never got around to reading the series. There will definitely be more Anne reading in my future!

I marked off one reading goal, a mystery. I read A Stranger in Mayfair by Charles Finch. This is the fourth installment of the amateur detective Charles Lennox. I find the stories an easy read, but with definite mystery. I'm usually left guessing the culprit until the very end. I'd highly recommend this series.

On a whim I picked up a book written by a man who cycled the Tour Divide. A 2,800 mile Rocky Mountain mountain biking race that starts in Canada and goes to Mexico. Eat Sleep Ride was an interesting read as I knew little about bike racing and the man who wrote it set out, more or less, to come in last. :)

However, the book I want to somewhat briefly highlight is A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz. I checked the book out of the library for three reasons: the review I read in Book Pages, the cover featuring a paper doll suit of clothing (I was an avid paper doll fan as a girl and still have quite a soft spot for them), and the male author perspective on Austen. I am so glad I did.

When I concluded this slender volume, I nearly turned it back to the beginning to start again. I felt certain I'd missed something. Part memoir and part literary analysis, I soaked up Deresiewicz's thoughts about Austen's six novels. My favorite chapter was on Mansfield Park. What intrigued me in part was that it was his least favorite novel and yet he brought deep appreciation for the lessons of the text. I actually have never read Mansfield Park, but have plans to.

I want to share a few excerpted quotations of Deresiewicz's analysis of the novel. I hope, despite them being taken out of context, that you might get a small glimpse of this book. Though these flow chronologically through the chapter, they are not necessarily thoughts that tie together as interim story is left out. To get the full picture, you just need to read the book. I think it will be worth your time.

Shame, gratitude, terror, happiness, jealousy, love: her [Fanny's] emotions were not always pleasant, but she felt them with her whole body. "Fanny's feelings on the occasion were such as she believed herself incapable of expressing; but her countenance and a few artless words fully conveyed all their gratitude and delight."....Life was simply much more real to her than it was to Mary or Henry or Tom or Maria. Its risks were more threatening, its pleasures more precious. One of Austen's highest lessons, I realized, is that the only people who can really feel are those who have a sense of what it means to do without.
Being a valuable person--a "something" rather than a "nothing"--means having consideration for the people around you...But the novel's most important word of all was "useful."....Lady Bertram, not surprisingly--it was the worst thing that Austen could say about her--"never thought of being useful to anybody."
I resisted accepting this, for a long time, as a standard of behavior. It seemed so, well, utilitarian--so petty and practical. Is that the best we could do for one another, be "useful"? What about support and compassion and love? But eventually I started to see the point. Usefulness--seeing what people need and helping them get it--is support and compassion. Loving your friends and family is great, but what does it mean if you aren't actually willing to do anything for them when they really need you, put yourself out in any way? Love, I saw, is a verb, not just a noun--an effort, for just another precious feeling.
To listen to a person's stories, he [Edmund] understood, is to learn their feelings and experiences and values and habits of mind, and to learn them all at once and all together. Austen was not a novelist for nothing: she knew that our stories are what make us human, and that listening to someone else's stories--entering into their feelings, validating their experiences--is the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness.
...I knew perfectly well that I fell far short of the standards that Austen was holding up, so I started to watch myself, and I started, yes, to exert myself. I made a deliberate effort to be useful to the people around me, whether it was something small, like showing up on time for dinner, or something bigger, like proofreading a friend's dissertation. Most of all, I practiced sitting still and listening--really listening. To friends, to students, even just to people I met, as their stories came stumbling out in the awkward, unpolished way that people have when you give them the freedom to speak from their heart. People's stories are the most personal thing they have, and paying attention to those stories is just about the most important thing you can do for them. I never did come to like Fanny's story, but that's the deepest lesson that finally listening to it had taught me.
(excerpted from the chapter Mansfield Park: Being Good from the book A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz)

Okay, I've babbled on long enough here. I'll just leave you with my completed reading list for May.

Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide by Tony Diterrlizzi (children's, read for work)
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (children's, read for work)
A Stranger in Mayfair by Charles Finch
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (audio)
Turkish Delights and Treasure Hunts by Jane Brocket
The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson
Eat Sleep Ride by Paul Howard
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Happy Reading to you all!


Lana Joy said...

Very intrigued by the Austen education book. I think I'd love it. Maybe I can squeeze it in over Christmas break or something. Was it a quick read? Maybe I could earlier than that. Thanks for the review!

stephanie said...

Lana, I found the book to be a quick read. It's less than 300 pages and really just quite interesting. I think--when you find time to read it--you'll be glad you read it!

jeremy said...

I would like to hear more on "Charlie and the ..." I think Dahl has a great style of instilling a dark underbelly to his stories.

I am proud to have read a horror anthology called "Foundations in Fear". Despite the gratuitous skull on the cover, I was pleased to find classic authors of the late 1890s and stories that laid the groundwork for future horror. "The Great God Pan" is an AMAZING story that influenced Peter Straub's "Ghost Story". Also, I was pleased to see the short story that influenced both versions of the movie "The Thing" (my favorite movie version being John Carpenter's take). So, the point is, never judge the book by it's cover...and that horror is not always trash. This anthology had mostly great literary stories in it and many by female authors who were not respected until long after their deaths due to the times. Great stuff.

Alaina said...

How are we sisters and you never read Anne? I seriously devoured all of L.M. Montgomery's book and own(ed) all of the Anne of Green Gables Series!

Amanda said...

I too am amazed that in the course of our long friendship you have never read the Anne books! I have a "hard copy" of Anne of Green Gables that is permanently crumpled on the pages where Matthew dies... which I have read at least 7 times in the course of my life. When you finish the entire series... which you MUST do :)... I highly recommend reading the three "Emily" books as well. I might have liked them a tiny bit more than even the Anne books..

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