To be honest, I rarely read any Jane Austen books that aren’t written by Jane Austen. I just find it so hard not to be disappointed when a modern authTo be honest, I rarely read any Jane Austen books that aren’t written by Jane Austen. I just find it so hard not to be disappointed when a modern author tries to adopt Jane’s characters and doesn’t get it right and to be fair, the original books are so amazing that it is hard to match them. Still, I had heard so many great things about Jo Baker’s Longbourn that I thought I would give it a chance. The premise of the story is that it is from the point of view of the background characters from Pride and Prejudice, the servants who tend to Elizabeth Bennet and the rest of the Bennet family at their home, Longbourn. I thought that if Elizabeth and her family were not the focus of the story, Longbourn had a chance to avoid most of the pitfalls that Jane Austen lit books typically fall into. I wish I could say that it lived up to the hype and that it convinced me that it is possible for others to play in Jane Austen’s world and do it well but even if you didn’t hold it to the standards of a Jane Austen novel, Longbourn has some serious flaws.
From the point of view of a Jane Austen fan, which I have to assume was the target audience for this book, there is a strange hostility towards the Bennet family – both in terms of how the other characters view them and in the way they were portrayed by the author – that was a bit uncomfortable to read. In this, Longbourn reminded me of March by Geraldine Brooks, an odious re-telling of Little Women from Mr. March’s point of view, that came across to me, a devoted Little Women fan, as not so much a retelling but a deliberate and bitter smear campaign against beloved literary characters by an author with an agenda. Longbourn wasn’t quite as bad but it did seem that the more popular a character is to Jane Austen’s readers and the more sympathetically that Jane Austen portrayed them, the more the author seemed to dislike them and depict them in the most unflattering manner possible. Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet take the brunt of this, while characters like Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Mary, and Lydia are treated much more positively and sympathetically. (Lady Catherine de Bourgh, however, is thoroughly insufferable, no matter which version of the story you read).
About halfway through, I decided to read the rest of the book as if the Bennet family weren’t Jane Austen’s Bennets. I thought that if I divorced the story from Pride and Prejudice, it might be more readable but the truth was that the writing was uneven and poorly thought out even when I wasn’t comparing it to Jane Austen’s. I am not saying that there weren’t good moments. The part of the book where Mr. Collins visits and the servants, concerned that he be impressed with them so he would keep them on when he became the master of Longbourn, was interesting. But these good parts were few and far between and get drowned out by the more implausible or ill-conceived plot points.
And the main character was so unlikable that it was hard to wade through her muttering and complaining to get to the better parts of the book. I understand that there was a divide in privilege and advantages between the servants and the family but Sarah’s sullenness and resentment got to be a bit much at times and her attitudes towards the other characters seemed to veer in dramatic mood swings that almost seemed to come and go without rhyme or reason.
I am not sure what other readers who have reviewed this book so glowingly are seeing that I am missing but it is a truth most fervently (if not universally) acknowledged (at least by me) that you really should leave Jane Austen and her creations alone if you cannot do them justice and Longbourn sadly did not. ...more
Then I went on to read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I can definitely see how it could a significant book to many young girls, and I liked howThen I went on to read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I can definitely see how it could a significant book to many young girls, and I liked how it dealt with religion, identity, and family rather complexly and honestly. I especially loved how Margaret realized that just because a boy was cute and popular, doesn’t mean that he was nice or a good person. I think that is an important truth to know, especially if you can figure it out in 6th grade.
The one thing that bothered me about the book was the way Margaret and her friends treated Laura Danker. I was a tall, isolated kid who was singled out and made fun of (although for different reasons) so I really identified with Laura. I hated the scene where Margaret took out her frustrations on poor Laura but what really made me mad was that even after learning the truth about Laura and coming to realize that her new friends are not all that trustworthy, Margaret never really does anything differently. She is still a part of her little group of friends and Laura is still isolated and alone. For a brief moment of time, Margaret feels empathy and understanding towards Laura but then promptly forgets about it, which quite frankly makes me incredibly sad for her. I realize that Margaret has been left to find her own way in terms of faith and religion but learning about compassion could only help her, regardless of if she was Christian, Jewish, or continues to find her own path with her own, personal relationship with God....more
I recently finished reading From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for the first time and I am utterly charmed by the thought of runningI recently finished reading From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for the first time and I am utterly charmed by the thought of running away and living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art!
In this case, it might actually have worked to my advantage to read the book now instead of as a child, because I can’t remember the first time I went to the Met. It’s one of my favorite places to spend a day and my husband and I tend to go at least once a year (and more often if we can manage it) but I can’t recall how old I was when I visited the Met for the first time and I am not sure I would have realized just how cool the concept was without first experiencing the Met for myself.
I just know that the next time we go to spend a day at the museum, I am going to be thinking of Claudia and Jamie and their adventures. And I think it’s time to introduce my niece to both this charming book and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. ...more
Now that I have finished the book, I have to say that my favorite thing about Langston Hughes’ work is the sheer musicality of it. I’ve read a lot about how influenced he was by Jazz and the Blues and I can definitely see that, both in the rhythm of the poems and in the many references Hughes makes to that kind of music. But I really loved the gospel feel to poems like “Feet O’ Jesus,” “Tambourines,” and “Prayer Meeting.” Most of them seemed to fall in the section of the book made up of selections from Hughes’ book of poetry, Feet of Jesus and I enjoyed them so much that I am seriously thinking of picking up the entire book to see if there are other poems in a similar style that I could check out.
As for the rest of the collection, with the exception of a couple of poems that were a bit on the disturbing side (notably "To Artina and "Genius Child"), I really enjoyed reading this book, particularly poems like "Ardella", Midnight Dancer, and Stars, which were so lovely and lyrical.
And when all is said and done, I have really enjoyed getting to know Langston Hughes better and I am looking forward to discovering more of him and his work. ...more
In the interest of full disclosure, James Joyce and I have a somewhat complicated relationship. For all that I was born and raised in the U.S., I inheIn the interest of full disclosure, James Joyce and I have a somewhat complicated relationship. For all that I was born and raised in the U.S., I inherited a love of all things Irish from my grandfather who was the son of two Irish immigrants. So I find Joyce’s attitude towards Ireland and the Irish rather obnoxious. I utterly loathed him when I had to read the Dubliners in high school but after re-reading the book a year or so ago, I came to grudgingly admit that there were stories in the collection that I liked and so I decided to try A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and see if Mr. Joyce and I could come to terms with each other.
Now that I have finished the book, I really don’t think that Joyce and I are ever going to be kindred spirits. It took me 2 months to get through it, which is highly unusual for me. I am a fast and obsessive reader and tend to devour books. Typically it is a struggle to get me to put down a book once I have started reading it but instead I trudged through Portrait and at one point, I had to put it down and read some Jane Austen just to break up the frustration of slogging through the ENDLESS pages describing Hell in such minute detail that it was as torturous as anything Dante could have imagined or enduring the incredibly pedantic lectures on Aesthetics that Stephen insists on inflicting on a schoolmate (mostly for the benefit of hearing himself talk). It also didn’t help that Joyce throws in so many phrases in Latin and so many references to philosophy, religion, and Irish politics that I probably should have picked up an annotated copy of the book.
Still, the book started off promising. Even though I can’t stand anything I have ever read about Joyce as a person, I do have to admit that the man had talent and could do fascinating things with the language. Joyce’s writing style is even more impressive when you consider that it really hadn’t been done before. Although I am loath to admit it, because really Joyce’s ego is more than sufficient without my contributing to it, Joyce’s use of language in this book is nothing less than brilliant. Stephen’s mental voice grows and changes as he matures and although it really makes the reader work hard in order to get what is happening now, the choppy, stream of consciousness style that Joyce was pioneering is excellent for evoking brief flashes of emotion and memory in a way that almost bypasses mental processing and goes straight for the emotions. There is a scene in a schoolyard right after Stephen has been sent to school for the first time and the little snippets of various conversations all jumbled together really gave me that new kid in school sense of vulnerability and feeling out of place.
I also really liked the idea of language and narrative being such a formative influence, where even when Stephen’s father tells him a childish little bedtime story, Stephen places himself inside the story as “Baby Tuckoo.” Crafting your own unique identity and finding a legitimate voice to tell your story is one of the key struggles of any coming of age story. And what could have made Stephen’s coming of age so fascinating was that there were a lot of voices trying to shape and influence his story and how he tells it. What makes it even more interesting is that Stephen’s experiences are very similar to the broader Irish experience at a time where Irish Nationalists, England, and the Catholic Church (complete with three different languages: English, Latin, and Gaelic) were all competing to control Ireland’s narrative and destiny.
Having said that, what frustrated me the most about this book is that, while I sympathize with Stephen’s need to find a voice and a story of his own, I hate that the voice he finds is always a @!#! sneer and his story is always one of extremes. No one can ever live up to Stephen’s exacting standards. He has a constant holier-than-thou attitude (or unholier-than-thou, as the case may be). He is always judging others for one reason or another and is convinced that no one has ever struggled as he struggles. He just distances himself from everyone else as he throws himself from one dramatic epiphany to the next in his quest to be the most special little snowflake of all. His schoolmates and “friends” are just there for him to show off to, endlessly pontificating on his theories of aesthetics or forcing them to listen to his “confessions” of sin, depravity, and indifference to Faith and country. His attitude towards women is literally a Madonna-Whore complex. I don’t know if Joyce or even Stephen (with his dramatic tendency to put himself inside stories and books) was trying to set himself up as a Dante figure with his own personal Beatrice but it really came across as creepy and angry and not that far from sounding like a serial killer. He is cold, self-absorbed, and arrogant to the point where I just wanted to slip inside the book and smack him, smack him really, really, REALLY hard.
But for all his sense of superiority, he really is mostly just talk. Other than attending classes (during which his thoughts almost always wander), we rarely see Stephen DO anything, and certainly not anything to justify all his attitude and pretension. He obsesses about a girl but doesn’t talk to her until the end of the book when he is about to go away. (This doesn’t stop him from being very bitter about her talking to other men, including a priest, as if she is somehow obligated to remain faithful to a relationship he hasn’t done anything to initiate). He writes a handful of poems but doesn’t show any real discipline about developing his skills or producing anything on a regular basis. He receives an expensive education that his family could ill afford but doesn’t do anything with it. Even as his family sinks further into poverty, he continues to soak up all their resources and contribute nothing in return. In fact, he resents them for not living a lifestyle that is up to his standards of beauty.
With all of this, any sympathy I might have had for Stephen as a character or any appreciation I might have had for the skill of Joyce’s writing got completely drowned out by the sheer arrogance and pretension that radiated off of the page. I don’t know what happens to Stephen as he wings his way out of Ireland to become an artist but I do know that I am not in any hurry to read another James Joyce novel to find out. ...more
I was thrilled to receive a copy of the Annotated Northanger Abbey for Christmas because N.A. is one of the few Jane Austen books I hadn't already reaI was thrilled to receive a copy of the Annotated Northanger Abbey for Christmas because N.A. is one of the few Jane Austen books I hadn't already read.
The story, about a girl with an overactive imagination and a fondness for Gothic horror stories, was fun to read. I rather think that Catherine Morland and Anne Shirley (from the Anne of Green Gables series) would have understood each other rather well and could share a rueful laugh or two over the the kind of scrapes you can get into if you are not careful with dramatic stories.
I can't say that N.A. will ever rival Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, or Persuasion as one of my favorite Jane Austen novels. It isn't nearly as polished, which makes sense since it was one of Jane Austen's earliest works to be released for publication. Catherine, as a character, isn't nearly as compelling as Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Eliot, or even Emma Woodhouse, but that might have been by design as the author was trying to make Catherine as ordinary as possible to contrast her with the very dramatic Gothic heroine that she was satirizing.
The ending was also rather abrupt. Miss Tileny's marriage and its impact on Henry and Catherine's prospects seemed to come from nowhere. It's the closest Jane Austen has ever come to a deus ex machina kind of ending ending and that is something I think she would have managed better if she had written or revised the book a little later in life.
Lastly, unlike books like Pride and Prejudice which seem classic and timeless, Northanger Abbey comes across a little dated with frequent allusions to specific books and authors of Austen's time that a modern audience wouldn't necessarily pick up on. Even Jane Austen felt that the 13 year delay between when the book was intended to be published and when it was actually released had rendered parts of the book "obsolete" so I don't think I am alone in feeling that a little extra information is needed to fully enjoy this story.
That is where David Shapard's annotations come in. I have really enjoyed reading his annotations on books like Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Emma because they allowed me to pick up on details and nuances that I might have missed, not being as intimately familiar with Regency time and culture as Austen's intended audience was. For Northanger Abbey, the annotations were even more helpful. With access to all the extra information, the book became much more accessible and enjoyable. ...more
I finished The Fault in Our Stars in one night and now that I have stopped crying, I really can't decide it I want to describe it as "devastatingly beI finished The Fault in Our Stars in one night and now that I have stopped crying, I really can't decide it I want to describe it as "devastatingly beautiful" or as "beautifully devastating" It is not a cheerful book - or to be more accurate, it does have it's cheerful and humorous points but things do get very, very real - which is what I guess you should expect about a love story between two teenage cancer patients. But having said that, it is a good book. You will cry but it will be worth it.
John Green is an amazing writer. There are some phrases in this book that will stay with me for a long time. I love his use of poetry and literature and cultural allusions. I love reading books (particularly ones aimed at young adults) that aren't afraid to let their protagonists be unashamedly smart and literate and thoughtful.
The concept of the fictional book, 'An Imperial Affliction' that Hazel and Gus love so much was fascinating. I love how the author uses Hazel's desperate need to know what happened to the mother in the book after her daughter died to bring home how much Hazel worries about what how her death will affect her own mother.
(I will also admit to being horribly amused by the thought of a hamster named Sisyphus and now, despite the fact that I have never been a big fan of the rodent family, I am horribly tempted to get a hamster just so I can put him in a hamster ball and push it up small ramps just so he can roll back down again. Don't judge me - it was 3 am when I finished this book and I got a little loopy halfway through!)
And this sums the book perfectly. There is a lot big concepts and beautiful words mixed with humor and playfulness, mixed with loss and heartache. And there is a realness and an honesty here. Hazel and Gus and Issac aren't heroes. They aren't inspirations to us all. They are just kids living in a world that is brutally unfair and doing the best they can. And that is okay. ...more
**spoiler alert** I have just finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and in lieu of a review, I would like to take this moment to say a few thin**spoiler alert** I have just finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and in lieu of a review, I would like to take this moment to say a few things to its main character, Victor Frankenstein.
I fear there is no polite way to say this but you, sir, are an idiot. An idiot, I say! Let’s set aside the obvious moral of your story – that messing around with the laws of God and Nature almost always leads to trouble – and let’s skip over the stunning display of hubris you showed in even making the attempt. (What? Weren’t Greek classics covered in your fancy university?) I don’t feel the need to dwell on these issues because even you got the hint eventually. However, I would like to point out the many, many ways much of the resulting unpleasantness could have been avoided if you had shown even the slightest bit of common sense or the tiniest shred of moral substance or personal responsibility.
First of all, in all the time that you were attempting to create your creature, did you ever think of what were you planning on doing with it after you were done? Most likely, you never thought that far. Proactivity and recognizing the probable consequences of your actions just doesn’t seem to be your strong suit. But really, this does seem to be a rather glaring indication that you were headed for trouble. The whole thing strikes me as rather shortsighted and irresponsible, much like people who get their kids a bunny for Easter but get tired of taking care of it by Memorial Day.
Then, once the monster had been created, you come down with a serious case of mad scientist’s remorse. Why? Not because of anything the creature did or any indication that it would be dangerous (other than its size, which really you should have noticed before this point) – just because it was ugly. And then when it runs off, you just go about your life like nothing ever happened! I can’t believe that you didn’t look for it, or try to do anything to clean up the mess you made. I mean, there are only a couple of ways this situation can go:
A) the thing is dangerous and now, thanks to you, it is wandering around where it can hurt someone,
B) the thing doesn’t actively mean anyone harm and now, thanks to you, it is wandering around homeless and alone and without the basic social or vocational skills to make any sort of decent life for itself.
C) both of the above.
Still, no matter which of those scenarios were true, ignoring the problem is just selfish, irresponsible, stupid, and downright cruel! This is why your 8 foot tall abomination of nature with a tendency to strangle people and frame others for the crime comes across as more likable and sympathetic than you do.
This book is subtitled “The Modern Prometheus” but you are nothing like Prometheus. In the myth, Prometheus steals fire for mankind because he takes pity on them and wants them to be able to take care of themselves. If you had taken pity on your creation and given it the means to make a place for itself, things would not have gotten as out of control as they did.
Prometheus also bore the punishment for his crime and didn’t mope and brood while the consequences of his actions landed on his brother, friend, and wife. Maybe it’s because I am a girl and I grew up reading Beauty and the Beast but if it were me and the monster was demanding someone to keep him company or he would strike out at my family, it would occur to me to actually be that someone. I mean, I know he was asking you to make him a wife but he had just finished telling you about how he tried to befriend a family and how he originally grabbed your brother in the hopes that he could make a companion out a child who hadn’t been taught to fear him yet. So obviously, he was just looking for someone, not necessarily a mate and it would have been a very appropriate penance for you to fulfill that role. You may even have come to enjoy it. I mean, far from being the inarticulate brutish creature that we see in the monster movies (what smear campaign was that!) your creation was smart, reasoned, and articulate. Anyone who learns to read using Paradise Lost and then references it during an argument to make his point, may turn out to be an interesting person to know.
But no, you would rather rant and rail and mope and brood and basically make Prince Hamlet look like an emotionally healthy and decisive person in comparison to you. I guess what I am trying to say is that we may refer to your creation as Frankenstein’s monster but in my opinion, your stunning display of selfishness, irresponsibility, and total lack of compassion makes you the true monster of this story. ...more
I was utterly charmed by Susan Branch’s A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside. Written during a two month trip to England, A FiI was utterly charmed by Susan Branch’s A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside. Written during a two month trip to England, A Fine Romance documents all of the lovely places that Susan (and her husband, Joe) visited, including Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, Hever Castle where Anne Boleyn grew up, and, of course, Jane Austen’s house in Chawton. It is chock full of gorgeous gardens, wonderful books, good food, knitting, and lots and lots of tea – everything that I love – and left me with the strongest urge to run away from home and move to England.
To be fair, this doesn’t take too much convincing. I have always wanted to visit England and Ireland and I have always been very susceptible to stories about moving away and starting someplace new. Under the Tuscan Sun gets me every time. Still, I think A Fine Romance could tempt almost anyone into having their own love affair with the English countryside.
Like Under the Tuscan Sun, A Fine Romance has yummy sounding recipes scattered throughout, recipes like Hot Milk Cake and Lemon Butter Cookies that I would love to try out for my next tea party. It also has photographs, quotes, and lovely little watercolor illustrations that Susan painted while in England. So charming!
You can also go onto Susan’s website for even more information and references about the places, people, and things that Susan and Joe encountered on their trip. (Be very careful about visiting the website, I stumbled up the link to all the cottages and apartments you can rent from the National Trust and lost an hour of my life clicking on all the pictures of the amazing places you can stay in! I was helpless to resist!)
Both book and website have lots of recommendations of great places to visit, things to do, food to cook and eat, books to read, and movies to watch. My only grumble is that with all the times that Susan mentions curling up with her knitting, and with all the photos and paintings of sheep, I felt that yarn shops (or at least a mention of what she was knitting) was curiously missing. Maybe it is just me but I was just as curious about what was on the knitting needles as I was about what was in the teacup or on the telly.
Still this was a very minor quibble and I enjoyed the book so much that I am definitely going to check out some of her others. And, if the magical day where I can plan my own trip to England ever comes, I will definitely be using A Fine Romance to help me plan where to go and what to do.
A series of anecdotes and stories that explored Maya Angelou’s relationship with her mother, Vivian, (some of which were also included in other books)A series of anecdotes and stories that explored Maya Angelou’s relationship with her mother, Vivian, (some of which were also included in other books) Mom and Me and Mom is a quick, pleasant read.
At times, It seemed to skim over some deeper emotions, with issues of anger and abandonment hinted at rather than fully explored, so I wouldn't rank it among Maya Angelou's most powerful works. (My personal favorites are Letter to My Daughter and Even the Stars Look Lonesome) But even still, a book by Maya Angelou is always a treat and this book is no exception. ...more
After a crazy past few weeks, I gave myself a day off to rest and recharge and I decided to spend it reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of theAfter a crazy past few weeks, I gave myself a day off to rest and recharge and I decided to spend it reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was a good decision. I enjoyed the book, which had enough of the Gaiman style and flair that I literally heard Neil’s voice narrating in my head as I read it, but it wasn’t so ambitious that I had to put any real effort into enjoying it. Overall, it was closer to The Graveyard Book than to American Gods in the spectrum of Neil’s work. (Not that I don’t love American Gods and not that I don’t enjoy a book that makes you work for it but in my present state of mind, I was more than happy to read something a bit more accessible).
All in all, it reminded me of Peter Beagle’s Tamsin, which is one of my favorite books by one my all favorite authors (whose voice, incidentally, I also hear narrating in my head whenever I read something of his).
I don't think The Ocean at the End of the Lane will go down in history as the best book Neil Gaiman has ever written but it was a quick, interesting read and exactly what I needed at the moment. ...more
A collection of poems, short stories, essays, articles, reviews and more, the Portable Dorothy Parker is both fun and fascinating.
Dorothy Parker, famA collection of poems, short stories, essays, articles, reviews and more, the Portable Dorothy Parker is both fun and fascinating.
Dorothy Parker, famous (or is it infamous) for her wit and humor, never thought much of her work other than as a way to pay her bills. Believing that one had to be a writer of a serious novel before you could be taken seriously, I believe that she did herself and her work a great disservice. In her short stories, many of which consist of nothing more than a conversation between two characters or a stream of consciousness internal monologue, she displays an exceptional talent with dialogue, filling the space between the lines of what is said with hidden tragedies, ironies, and hypocrisies more deftly than many of the novelist that I have read. The most famous example of Parker’s skill in contrasting the stated with the unstated is her Arrangements in Black and White, a short story in a white woman, gushing about the black singer who is attending the same party, reveals a horribly racist and condescending attitude even as she professes that she has “no feelings at all” about his race. There were several points where Parker’s short stories reminded me of Hemingway’s iceberg theory of writing in which only a small percentage of the story is stated outright while the rest lurks underwater, unseen until the reader delves for it. This was particularly striking while reading Parker’s Lady with a Lamp which seemed like a companion piece (if not a sequel) to Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants both in style and in subject.
If Parker’s short stories reminded me of Hemingway (and occasionally of James Joyce), her poetry (my favorite part of the book) made me instantly think of Edna St. Vincent Millay (one of my all time favorite poets). Neither Millay and Parker were shy about partaking in life, love, and sexuality (see: Millay’s “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed” and Parker’s “Salome’s Dancing Lesson”) but Parker seemed to be a lot more down to earth about it all with less illusions about the game and how it would play out. Still, despite the heartache inherent in not getting what you want (or worse, getting it), Parker never bows out. She may go into each situation with a wry, here-we-go-again attitude but she still goes in despite knowing better. And this rueful self-awareness, combined with her wit, humor, and just a touch of snark, is what I really enjoy about Parker’s work. Poems like “Unfortunate Coincidence,” “Two-Volume Novel,” “The Red Dress,” and “The Flaw in Paganism” are a lot of fun to read anytime but I can only imagine how much I would have appreciated this book when I was dealing with the ups and downs of dating!
The book also included some articles and essays Parker wrote for various publications, interviews, theater and book reviews, as well as a collection of letters that Parker wrote to various people. I have to admit that the letters were a bit of a let-down. Being out of context and to people that I didn’t necessarily know, they just didn’t catch my attention. I think I would have enjoyed them more in a biography or memoir because then I would have more of a context to put them in. The fact that the book ends with the letters was a bit of a let down, causing me to feel like the book fizzled out rather than ended.
I enjoyed the reviews a lot more. Although Parker’s wit seemed to becoming more curmudgeonly as she got older, her take on authors like Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, A. A. Milne (or as she called him, the author of “Whimsey the Pooh”), Jack Kerouac and Beat culture in general are often hilarious and not to be missed. ...more
Lush, sensual, and passionate, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair is a simply gorgeous collection of poems by Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.
What ILush, sensual, and passionate, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair is a simply gorgeous collection of poems by Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.
What I love about Neruda’s work is how earthy it is and by that, I mean that his poetry blends a frank appreciation of love and sex with natural images of pines, islands, sea, and sky in a way that is elemental and evocative and breathtaking.
For me, reading this book evoked images of a poet scribbling his verses by the light of a full moon while salt-laden island breezes wafted through open wooden shutters to cool the glistening skin of the smiling, sated woman sleeping in the tangled bed just behind him.
I am left in awe of how romantic and beautiful these poems are and I cannot wait to discover more of his incredibly poetry. ...more
I was introduced to the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay this past semester when I took an Intro to Poetry class. We read “I, Being Born a Woman andI was introduced to the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay this past semester when I took an Intro to Poetry class. We read “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed” and “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why.” From that point on, I have been a major fan of Millay’s work and I wanted to know more about her. So I looked around for a good biography to read and found Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Vincent (as Millay was known by family and friends) was a fascinating woman, living in a fascinating time period. She was bold, creative, and charismatic, drawing people to her with her child-like beauty, her voice, passion and sheer talent. Reading excerpts from her letters and diaries was interesting and entertaining. (At times, especially when she was a college student at Vassar, she comes across almost like a character from a Lucy Maud Montgomery book (like Emily Byrd Starr) albeit one that smokes, acts out, and has a LOT more sex that any character Montgomery would ever have written about).
Having said all that, Nancy Milford’s Savage Beauty was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Milford is fairly successful in recounting Vincent’s early years from childhood, up through college and into the beginning of her career and marriage but the book eventually gets bogged down and lags more than a little towards the end before abruptly stopping in a rather unsatisfying conclusion. Also the author lacked a certain sympathy with her subject that would have allowed her to discuss some of the more sensitive parts of Vincent’s life without coming across as gossiping, judgmental and exploitative. She also allowed her personal hostility towards Norma Millay, Vincent’s sister and her source for much of the book, to be painfully obvious in the text. Even as she depends on Norma to provide access to Vincent’s papers and to recount her own recollections, Milford also makes not-so-subtle digs at her and questions Norma’s accuracy and motivations in providing the stories. It makes the narrator of the book come across as an unlikeable, sneering, insinuating, condescending gossip. During the parts of the book where Milford doesn’t intrude too much and allows Vincent to speak for herself through the documents she left behind, I enjoyed the book. I just wish there had been more of it.
I would love to read another, better biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay. If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them. ...more
In Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book a young boy is adopted by the spirits who inhabit a local graveyard after his family is murdered by a sinister manIn Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book a young boy is adopted by the spirits who inhabit a local graveyard after his family is murdered by a sinister man called Jack. As the boy grows, his otherworldly family protects and nurtures him, teaching him all the things that the dead know and keeping him safe from the assassin who is still looking for him.
The book ran a range of emotion from deliciously spooky to the particular brand of quirky humor that I have come to expect from Neil Gaiman and reminded me of a blend of Kipling's The Jungle Book and Peter Beagle's A Fine and Private Place. ...more
Continuing my current obsession with Billy Collins, I picked yet another collection of his poems: Questions about Angels. Some of the poems (like: “FiContinuing my current obsession with Billy Collins, I picked yet another collection of his poems: Questions about Angels. Some of the poems (like: “First Reader,” “The Death of Allegory,” and the wryly, charming poem entitled “Forgetfulness”) I had come across when I read Sailing Alone Around the Room (a book that combined new poems with some of Mr. Collins’ greatest hits from past selections) but they are so good that I don’t mind reading them again. Other poems (most notably, “Reading Myself to Sleep,” “Metamorphosis,” “The Hunt,” “Candle Hat,” and “The First Geniuses”) were wonderful, new discoveries.
There is so much to enjoy about Collin’s work, (his laid-back, accessible style, his humor, his insight), but as a unrepentant bibliophile, I think my favorite thing about him is just how many of his poems are love songs to literacy, to writing and to reading. I can’t tell you how many times I read a line of his and just feel a sort of sympathy between us, like we were both “of the race that knew Joseph” (if you will pardon the Anne of Green Gables reference). For example, when I read “Reading Myself to Sleep” (a poem that I am seriously tempted to frame and hang above my bed) and I came across the line: “Is there a more gentle way to go into the night than to follow an endless rope of sentences and then to slip drowsily under the surface of a page into the first tentative flicker of a dream” I knew I was in the company of someone who really understands. ...more