BookRiot: A Book with a Cover you Hate

Labor Day weekend: the predawn of the school year for us in New York.  My son will be a first grade boy!  I have less apprehension about this year, as there have been glimpses of the mature boy that he is headed toward, but there still is some.  He’s still him, after all.

It’s been a BookRiot binge.  A binge! I think I just love a list, but whatever, it’s guiding my reading appreciably.

A Book With a Cover You Hate:

my brilliant friend.jpg

 

My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrarante

So yeah, this cover, bar none, cracked me in the face the first time I saw it.  BookRiot gave examples of books whose covers they don’t like, but it was usually because the cover had nothing to do with the story, or it was part of a series of covers that featured the authors over any other aspect of the book, like Margaret Atwood chilling on the cover of A Handmaid’s Tale.  This cover is way uglier than any author could dream of being. And for clarification, I am only talking about the first novel cover, not the series, but I will mention that in a bit.

It’s ugly to me because it looked so impossibly common and cheap.  I have said before I don’t tend to read books with a shoe, a purse, jewelry or a martini glass on the cover (except a witchy cozy because come on, its a cozy with magic) and a wedding is certainly on that list.  An ugly wedding at that.  An ugly wedding at the top!

Interestingly, the wedding in the book felt to me as superficial and cheesy as the picture on the cover.   This brilliant novel, and I will agree with everyone else who finds her writing brilliant, is about two girls born into a world that neither is really suited for.  One, the narrator, is supported by her parents by distinguishing herself from the usual fates of neighborhood girls by allowing her to attend school much longer and shining at it much more.  The other is not allowed to shine through school so shines by living the most prized existence possible within the confines of her world.  She shines by (spoiler alert) attracting and marrying one of the most desirable neighborhood boys and displaying a wealth and sophistication only dreamed of by others, but as I said, I think her marriage to him is more about beating everyone at their own game rather than being a true source of fulfillment for her. At the end of this first installment, there’s no proof that either is particularly happy.  I feel that both females are at their happiest with one another, even though the relationship has it’s dysfunctional aspects.

There is a little codependency on the narrator’s part.  She chases after a friend who she truly loves, but who can be as emotionally unavailable and even less predictable at times than her own mother, who predictably and pretty consistently hates her.  She also develops real feelings for a boy for the first time who can be focused on himself and unavailable as well. I mean, a mother who hates you will cause you to seek out relationships that are emotionally uneven.   It makes sense.  But I wanted more for both of these girls than the world they were born into, the world that wasn’t for them.  I wanted more for her than (spoiler alert) boy that got her hopes up about being academically recognized and doesn’t follow through.  I don’t know how I’d survive in a world that didn’t have a place for my strengths.

So about the cover. Other sources suggest that the covers were chosen to look ‘domestic’ because Ferrarante wanted to suggest that the details of domestic women’s lives are important as a literary topic.  She was hiding relevant/resonant material in covers that made it look the opposite. She was being ironic.  She was pointing out my condescending attitude toward books geared at women, which I already demonstrated with my previous paragraph regarding cover no fly zones. The cover eventually didn’t deter me due to the intrigue surrounding the covers and her secret identity, and because I knew they were highly rated and regarded.  The contents promised to outshine the trappings, and they did.  And a brief perusal of the other covers shows me that that first cover, that first face smack, is still the worst of the series.

This won’t change my reliance on a good cover.  Or my attraction to a book based on the cover.  I have a hard time turning away something darkly magical.  Some people wrote that they still haven’t made it past the covers.   But I did.  I made it.  And I ached for the characters in this depressing novel.  And I’m sure this was Ms. Ferrarante’s goal.

Another BookRiot post is coming up next, but there has been a list drafted of my creepy read downs for the impending fall.  And it’s not fall yet, lest anyone think that Sept 1 signals the acceptability of pumpkin coffees, because it does not.

I am ready for another creepy season without having to buy any books, insert wide eye emoji here.

Plus noveling continues. More about that at some point.

Comments/likes/shares!

 

Advertisements

BookRiot: Women and Sci Fi, aka Women Kicking Butt

I don’t always like science fiction, especially when I think it is going to be too complicated or too stressful.  Post apocalyptic, people trying to survive in a world pretty convincingly having gone to crap in the not so distant future isn’t always the relaxation and diversion I am looking for in a book.

But reading challenges are about expanding the mind and the possibilities, right? To make us uncomfortable for the sake of growth?

I found both of the books I am posting on here engaging.  One I didn’t expect to be engaging and another has been one I have been looking to read for awhile now and when it fit a category, even though I had already read the first one, I had to do it, too.  Two on a category I tend to have to talk myself into reading, no less! I know. I didn’t expect it either. An added bonus, but not a fact that made me anticipate not liking these works is that the protagonists aren’t only women, but women of color.

And on reflection for the purposes of this post, it makes sense I’d get absorbed into females in sci fi.  It’s the ultimate of girl power. Both of these are about pulling gender roles into greater equality. Both are about women who have special powers who, among other things, greatly enjoy their sexuality. And women kicking butt!!

parable of the sower.jpg

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

It’s difficult to consider myself well read if I have never picked up Octavia Butler.  I have this fuzzy list in my head of whose works I might not gravitate toward but who I still think are important, and Octavia has always been one of them, along with Ursula K. LeGuin.

I was immediately captivated by this book.  I wanted to know about their world and the dangers within and how she gets out of it when it inevitably burns down from the violence and the desperation they are steeped in.  It’s later in the book when they say that the time frame is about 7-10 years from now, or I wasn’t paying enough attention to that fact in the beginning for it to turn me off to reading it.  I don’t think things will be in that state in that short a time frame, with the gross corruption and people having to live in walled communities to stay safe from the larger world. I had to push myself a little to do this one, and then I was hanging on every word.

Some who reviewed this on Audible thought it was ‘preachy.’   The protagonist is building her own religion but she is developing it as a lens through which to make sense of and manage the crazy chaotic world she was placed in.  Science fiction, to me, always has that taste of philosophy that goes with it, like in Le Guin’s Tales of Earthsea, when so much hinged upon knowing a name and what that meant.  If you are building special worlds then there are considerations for world building and religion for the people.  It is part of context, not meant to be preachy. And in this book, she becomes a religious type leader, but I think it is to have rules with which to organize and give her new group purpose.  They are trying to survive in a new way and that new way is going to need a framework, whether it be that ‘we lie and steal and everyone for themselves’ or “God is change’ and wanting to promote the good of the group.  She has her nay sayers, like in any believable group, but she also has the best chance of making this whole survival thing work.

This book was captivating and I didn’t expect it to b.e  The world was clear and I wanted to know what was next with her surviving in it.  There was always something going to crap, like I would think is the norm in futuristic apocalyptic sci fi.   I listened to this, mostly, and I liked the narrator as a woman of color as the protagonist was. It all made it seem more real and pulled together.  And she kicked butt.

who fears death.jpg

Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor

I wanted to read this as it was, and I don’t remember the original impetus, and then I saw a copy of it on my best friend’s desk on a weekend trip to NYC and considered sliding it into my bag.  He said his interest was because it was going to be made into an HBO series and he wanted to read it first. And he is kind of tired of reading about white people, something in my ultimate whiteness might never happen to me.

Then Amazon put it out for 1.99 and I don’t know why they did this right before I realized that this also qualified for the reading challenge, halfway through Parable and I was like the universe wants me to do two in this luscious category of girl power.  It wanted me to roll about in it.

The funny thing about the HBO production is because people were getting confused because George RR Martin is going to be producing it and people thought that he wrote it, which is hilarious that anyone who read this book would think that a white man wrote it.  Dr. Okorafor shut down the rumors on Twitter, as she should, but it’s just another symptom of our society to think that Martin wrote this.

This is bad ass girlpower, even more than Parable. This tackles gender inequality in a huge way, not just in that the protagonist has all kinds of power that some men don’t have and the men who do have it don’t want to share it with women, but that she verbally confronts these differences.  She uses her powers to overcome institutionalized sexual oppression of women. She is a sorcerer, a healer, she is fierce, she came from trauma and less than nothing to rise above. She can change into animals! I loved reading about her discovering herself and her powers, her changing relationships, her heart.  This book was awesome and beautiful.  It was mystical realism instead of magical, and didn’t have the weird sexual relationships.

That said, this book is also intense.  I listened to a significant part of it and the narrator’s style was appropriate but hard to hook my brain into initially.  The topics are intense, the trauma and the inequality are intense. The sexuality is intense. This book is a ride.

 

If you want nonwhite girl power, do these.  I love it.

Comments/Likes/Shares!!

 

BookRiot’s Read Harder Challenge: A True Crime Book

So, as I said in my last post…I have a hard time resisting a book list.  We had our summer reading challenges in high school and while that booklet of doorstop sized titles could be daunting, I liked going through it to see what I was going to read.  It is also how I chose Pride and Prejudice for the first time.

As the summer goes on it is more difficult to resist the pull of ticking things off my BookRiot list.  The last four months of the year go by fast and I like to have things done ahead of time.

BookRiot’s true crime category was more a question of choice than of desire.  True crime fits right into what I do every day:  trying to make sense of something outside the norm.  Trying to appreciate it from another angle rather than coming from a place of judgment. Which is a luxury of mine: the chance to be objective.  I don’t expect the people who these crimes affect to be objective, but I try to expect myself to be.

It also was a question of choice because my library has a ton of true crime available on audio, it seems. I have not compared this count to other forms of nonfiction available, so maybe it’s just that they get more borrows on nonfiction audio, but I was astounded at the choices I had.  If they tend to have more audio of true crime than other nonfiction works, why would that be?  Does the level of drama lend itself better to audio?

the spider and the fly.jpg

The Spider and the Fly:  A Writer, a Murderer and a Story of Obsession, Claudia Rowe

I chose this one because I felt a reluctant ability to relate to the blurb from the library website.  A young woman looking to make sense of a terrible thing, set in Poughkeepsie, New York.   I knew I would be able to relate some to the setting, as I worked in the state hospital for a year in Poughkeepsie to complete my doctoral hours.  In fact, one of the people in this book also worked for the hospital and with the mentally ill there.   So I had been there:  the country setting just a reach away from the city.    I knew where she was talking about when she talked about what it was like down Rte 9.  I was there more than ten years after she was, so I didn’t know as much about how the downtown had been abandoned to favor the growth around the arterial, but I had stomped where she had stomped.  I drove through downtown to get to the hospital daily.

What struck me when I started to read this was all the trauma on all sides.

The writer’s trauma isn’t revealed until later on but was apparent to me pretty quickly, as one only becomes obsessed with something like a serial murderer when they are looking for their own answers.  There were some skeletons urging her on from her closet too, urging her into trying to make ends of a random and senseless crime. She could relate to all the pieces: the killer, the victims, the setting, the period of time.

I think what makes it even more compelling is that the killer’s trauma is much more subtle.  I have worked with people with the propensity or even history of killing and abusing others and usually the reasons are straightforward: abuse, severe neglect, trauma, psychosis.  This killer, Kendall Francois, appeared to have none of these, his family presenting as completely normal on the outside, even a black family blending into the white section of town.  Other siblings who for all intents and purposes seem to be functioning and contributing members of society.  The inside of his home is a decrepit mess due to hoarding, so there is some illness there, and I have my own theories of what Kendall’s diagnosis could have truly been based on the author’s spin on things, so there is a shade of dysfunction, but there are plenty of harmless people in the world who struggle with hoarding.  Who do not hoard rotting murder victims above their families.

When dysfunction is difficult to see, the press for answers can be more consuming, more challenging.  Pieces need to be put together as they emerge from the mist, subtle in and of themselves.  The pieces of his trauma line up with hers, in that they both come from families that look good on the outside but have their secrets on the inside.  Her trauma matches up with the lives of his victims as well, women who turned tricks due to their own damage that wasn’t addressed.  Of course I would want to read all this wreckage. I make my living sifting through wreckage!

But the author does grow and change from the experience, and that’s what we all want to see when there is wreckage.  Healing. So there is meaning in it in that it helped her figure out some things for herself and move on with the usual adult milestones.

As I said in the beginning, there were many contenders for this one, and if I was not noveling, I may have read more than one for this. Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood, The Devil in the White City.  All classics whereas this one is not as canonical.  Clearly the rest will sit on the TBR for now, and when I get to them, I am not sure they will resonate with me as much as this one.  I was once a young woman too looking for answers and dealing with extreme illness in Poughkeepsie, and in an even weirder parallel, the author and I both had boyfriends at the time who we did not end up with.  And that was a good thing.  So many connections on so many levels.  I’m not old now, but I am certainly no longer the woman I was when I was finishing my doctorate, and neither is she when she finishes with her journey with Kendall.

Comments/likes/Shares?  I’ll be reading harder (in addition to the copious other projects) as we slide into the cooler season…

Jane Eyre Repurposed

I have to keep reminding myself that I crave summer all the other months of the year when the unrelenting heat rolls in.  Most of the time it’s not difficult to love every moment of the season, even on the comforting rainy days, but when it feels sweltering day after day even I start craving the cooler weather again, and that is saying something.

Also of note:  took advantage of the Prime deal of buying almost any ebook and getting thirty percent of the cost of that book off another book.  I got Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami in tight runnings with The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood or The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.  Feel free to comment on my choices.  With my credit I found a book on my wish list on that magical deep amazon discount and got it for nothing!  It’s a scary book and I am contemplating if I need to do a third year of scary book posts so that identity shall remain hidden.

Today’s book is like last week’s book:  not so much a re-telling, but more a repurposing of characters.  Kinda like upcycling, but the original hasn’t exactly been discarded.  And, speaking of upcycling, a stand that I sanded and painted and put other handles on to make into a nightstand fifteen years ago has found a home in my she shed, all over again.  She shed could also be ready for blog show off.  My husband has to put out the electricity but that won’t change the aesthetics of a pictures!  The heat has made me spend less time out there than I would, too, as I don’t have a way to turn on the ceiling fan.  Yet.

But repurposing.  Jane Eyre was also repurposed in Texts from Jane Eyre, which is entirely a hilarious creation of imagined text conversations between famous literary characters.  She’s pretty easy to repurpose, being strong in her principles and very clear as to have survived all these years as a literary heroine.  She lends herself well to a new coat of paint, commenting on a current social situation that you well know her principles would not allow her to either be neutral about or keep quiet.  Like, who wouldn’t want her blogging about the president right about now?  Epic.

the eyre affair.jpg

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

This was a re-read.  It was a gift in graduate school and I read it on a solo flight to Iowa to interview for an internship.  I had read Jane Eyre by that point, but this book has a lot going on in it past the Jane Eyre part and I felt back then, in 2007, that it would need another go round.  And it did, even though it was ten plus years later.

This novel takes place in a world where there is still a war being fought with England and characters can come in and out of books, people can slip in and out of time spaces, and just a magical realism sort of world in that magical occurrences are just accepted to be the way of things.  Kind of sci fi with the being able to mess with time and jump into the dimensions of the plot lines of novels or pages of poetry.  Amazon says it’s more alternative history and satire, which, I could see that.  It’s just as I was writing this I was wondering if I shouldn’t have included it with some pending sci fi posts I have on the burner.   But, it is for my re-telling/re-purposing theme and there it will stay.

The protagonist actually has more doings with Rochester than Jane.  When she initially falls into the manuscript at a young age, it is the scene where he meets Jane that she falls into, and he has a lot of time in the book where he is not featured so I guess he has time to step out of the book and get involved in events of this world, like a show down the protagonist Thursday has with the villain Acheron, who is stealing characters out of manuscripts with which to otherwise manipulate the world.   She has more direct talks with him during scenes that he isn’t involved with. I do like that their actions change the end of Jane Eyre and having read it I was interested to remember how they did it.  I thought that added something to the book other than Thursday just trying to defeat the challenging and taunting villain with all sorts of powers and abilities as well as trying to get her own life straightened out.

The book can get a little complicated with political discussions, time/space issues, characters in poems and novels, rules of the magic, silly inventions and a tangly past romance.  There isn’t a wonder that I thought I needed another go round after 2007, but most of the best novels are like that.

I thought this would have more literary references that I would understand better now, but the bulk of the references are Shakespeare, and I have never liked him and I have never grown an appreciation later on as an adult. I still feel like these works intended for common and base entertainment are being upheld as real literature.  Like if people hundreds of years from now found episodes of Jersey Shore or Flavor of Love and made all children familiar with them as part of compulsory education.  That’s what it feels like to me.  But I did like the debate over if Shakes really wrote all these plays.

But it needed a revisit and I am glad I did.

She shed pictures to be revealed soon!  As well as more BookRiot categories.  I like the re-tellings but I can’t help myself when there is a reading list.  I just can’t.

 

Shares/Comments/Likes!

The Bronte Sisters and the Usual Suspects

Okay, so it was only supposed to be every other week, not a whole month between posts.  In my defense I have been reading relevant to my novel, so it was still noveling that got in the way of the posts, even though it was the reading part of noveling.

So I am drinking a beer during Independence Day after talking my husband into taking us to the beach first thing in this heat wave, before the beach turned into the inevitable crap show and we went home to sit in front of movies and AC.  Holidays are for breaking a long silence on my blog, yes?

Oh, and Happy Birthday to America, of course.  I found sparklers this year which I haven’t gotten to use in YEARS.  My beach going, treats eating, movie watching sadly deprived son will get to see the magic tonight.  Because I like having a little magic in my son’s childhood.  I enjoy adulthood but even I can’t say it isn’t a bit anti-climatic at times.

I thought the book I was reading for this post was a re-telling of Jane Eyre.  I decided to commit to it anyway after I discovered that it wasn’t exactly a re-telling, to go with my theme. It’s not even a BookRiot category.  Seriously, I am a mess this summer.  But since I have read Wide Sargasso Sea, which I loved, I am not sure any other Jane Eyre re-telling would get a fair shake compared to that.    I also read and reviewed Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, which is somewhat of a re-telling, and I thought that was hilarious. I have the newest Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker, but I thought of that too late.

the madwoman upstairs

The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell

Like I said, this is not a Bertha Rochester special, although she does get some time in the narrative.  But so does Agnes Grey, Helen Graham, Heathcliff, Cathy, Jane and Mr. Rochester.  This is about a young scholar trying to find her eccentric father’s inheritance through their shared relation to, and study of, the Bronte sisters and their works.  She is an American at Oxford and is studying one on one with a professor.

I have read all the Bronte novels save for Shirley and The Professor, which didn’t feature as much in this book, thankfully, as the other ones I read. I was going to do a Bronte blog entry once I get through those last two gems of Charlotte’s, and I still will, but I was glad I went into this having read as much Bronte as I had.  This one started off slow, and without the context of what I had already read, I might not have continued with it.  There is a lot of academic banter, and remembering that time in my life I could relate to it, but aiming the book toward someone who has been an academic as well as some familiarity with Bronte novels would limit the audience to whom it would appeal.

Once it did pick up into the meat of the mystery and the narrative, I did enjoy it, even though it was talking about Anne’s novels not being the best ones, when I might like Anne the best because shallowly I like her endings.  Charlotte’s Villette and Jane Eyre end entirely in an unsatisfying manner, which may be why I have not tackled her last two, despite having them even on audio. I worry I will press through them just to take issue with how it all ended up.  As much as I enjoyed Jane Eyre I didn’t like that she only truly captured Rochester after he was damaged goods.

I liked the way this one ended and I am surprised that I liked it, because usually I don’t go for that sort of thing.  I can’t say what it was in case a fellow reader decently versed in Bronte and doesn’t mind literary criticism talk reads this post and wants to check out the book for herself.  Other strong points were the description and the language, beautiful and poetic metaphors, and the sarcastic tone.  The audio narrator captured this sarcastic tone well and the tone was fitting the point of view character, a young academic who wasn’t so young as to have evaded enough sadness and disappointment to be a little cynical herself.  I liked also that it was not just about the Bronte novels but who the sisters were behind them and what ‘madness’ really meant in their context and is not quite the ‘madness’ that I have known in my professional life.

I don’t mind being part of a niche.  I would like to think I don’t love white people problems the most as a book topic, but I do.  I am looking forward to reading more literature with nonwhite or nonwestern characters, I really am, but I can get sucked right into the problems of the privileged.  Not super super privileged, as I lose patience with those people and saccharine plot lines fast, but women who are able to get educations and have careers are my jam.

I can’t tell you where this blog will go next, if I am going to do something like re-read Jasper Fforde’s Eyre Affair, which might be completely different now that I have read many of the novels that it references and I hadn’t back in 2007 flying across the country alone, or go for another re-telling, or go back to Book Riot, or take my readers on a tour of the most epic she-shed of she-sheds, which is nearing completion in my yard. I am into another round of revisions after meeting with my excellent instructor and I have started to read more Anthony Doerr to punch up my poetic language, but I don’t know if that goes with my current blog-tastic themes.  But it’s better than not posting at all.  Reader, you will have to stay tuned.

Comments/likes/shares are always a thing!

 

Re-tellings continued: Austen Project #3

I can hardly believe that I have arrived at the end of my son’s kindergarten year.  It felt like eons before he could even enroll in public school, even though I did so as soon as he was old enough, on the cusp of turning five with some behaviors that were equally on the cusp.  I had a few weeks of concern over his adjustment, but then, after he turned five, he was magically fine.  Something clicked.

My son appears to experience distinct leaps in growth.  The first one involved two night terrors a night apart, after which he emerged sleeping through the night, walking, and never having another night terror at fifteen months.  Every August I feel that he has turned the next age in his maturity, when his birthday hovers around Halloween.   Facebook reminds me every year with bringing back posts on different years where I captioned, “a lot of growth this month!”

And now here he is with a kindergarten musical this upcoming Friday and here I am talking about the Jane Austen re-telling that I feel is the most about growing up than all her major novels…

 

Emma.jpg

Emma (The Austen Project #3), Alexander McCall Smith

I really liked this one. Emma might be my favorite Austen novel now.  I loved Pride and Prejudice first, once I had gotten enough understanding of the plot. At the time in my life I fell in love with the story I was hoping for some secret rich guy to fall in love with me from the wings.  I needed it to happen back then before I met my husband when I was floundering around in relationships that were frustrating and confusing in the impecunious years of youth and school and very little stability.  Pemberley?  Just because I am my feisty self?  Whaa?  I watched my favorite Pride and Prejudice movie after I got married and it didn’t give me the same hope.  Because I didn’t need it anymore.  I had created my own stability.

Anyway.

The author beat me to the punch on this one with the age difference.  Mr. Knightley is is established early on as being already established in the world and a bachelor to boot, but he specifically discusses how a fourteen year age difference didn’t impede the couple’s growing regard.  He talks about how they care about each others opinions and slowly begin to find the other interesting. I think them ending up together was less of a surprise in this one than in the original.  Also, with my own writing instruction and my love of  and familiarity with this plot, which extends to the movie Clueless, I could easily spot the setup in the conversations Emma had with her governess that set up the growth that she was about to experience through her actions in the rest of the novel.   Maybe it isn’t that I am better at picking these things out, it might just be Smith’s artistry.  But I liked it.

This one felt truly modernized, not just the same plot with some cell phones, texting and social media tossed in there, like Sense and Sensibility felt like.  There was the classic useless parent, this time a father, who doesn’t move her growth along nearly as much as her governess.   I like that she makes the active choice to stop being idle and trying to arrange people’s lives from her pedestal and learns that truly helping others more than just telling them what to do is the true fulfillment. This combined with having her own occupation and contribution also helped make it seem more modern to me.  Her contribution in the original one is just to get married, which a happy marriage is the highest they can aspire to back then, but with her choosing a real direction with her life was much more modern and satisfying.

So, Emma grows up, and my boy is at a milestone.

I don’t know where my next post is coming from. I need to re-read a classic for my novel and I have a BookRiot book post waiting for use, but neither of those go on my retelling streak and I have not completed all my books that are re-tellings of classics.  So, I am not sure.  And being that it is summer, I need to start posting every other week again, to give me time for other writing.

Comments/Likes/Shares!!

Two Retakes on Sense and Sensibility

I think it is safe to mention at this point that my husband almost has my she-shed finished.  It will still be a few weeks before I am ready to post pics, as he wants to do more of a wrap around porch and more of the outdoor stuff, and he hasn’t finished the electrical and what he wants to do with the kitchen counter, but it is fixing to be magical.  I want to check out some antique stores to see if they have any metal chairs I might want for the kitchen around the table that can be out or in.  This will be the third summer and I will have my retreat and I will post on it and my heart will be joyful, so stay tuned.

Sense and Sensibility was a super early foray into the classics for me. It happened actually the summer after my first year in my doctorate, the same summer I read Jane Eyre.   I only read in grad school in earnest on winter and summer breaks, as the rest of the time I didn’t have the brain space for it.   And it usually wasn’t classics, it was Nero Wolfe novels, which were classics in themselves.

I liked classics and Nero novels at that time too because the emotional investment in them was low.  The characters and their situations were not so hand wringing-ly familiar.  I have noticed changes in my brain since I was in early adulthood, one of them being I don’t as often have such intense emotion, so it’s easier to widen my scope for reading as I am older, but in my early 20s, when everything seemed stressful and up in the air constantly, including a relationship that was on and off and completely unwieldy, I didn’t need some book playing with my emotions on top of it.  I didn’t need to step into another stressful world to get away from my own.   The only exception I remember making for this was when the Harry Potter books started coming out again.  I did read them when they were fresh.

I’m still like this with TV but that’s another post on another blog far, far away.

But, Sense and Sensibility.  Read too long ago and didn’t particularly move me.   So I was looking forward to the two re-tellings I review today and as any decent re-telling it helped me with a newer and more decent appreciation of this one.

sense and sensibility.jpg

Sense and Sensibility (Austen Project #1), Joanna Trollope

I will repeat that I can appreciate the challenge of this project.  No one is asking me to rework a beloved Austen classic.

That said, my review of this was mixed.  If the goal was to hold pretty close to the original, I believe that this work does it.  Granted, the original was not refreshed in my mind like Northanger Abbey was first, but the ties to the original were pretty clear based on what I know of Austen novels, that I have read all her full works at least once.  Sisters, a useless mother, misfortune, lucky connections in love in the end.  I have noticed that many of Austen’s books feature useless mothers, but maybe this is just a plot device for them to stay out of the way of the true story between the sisters, who are always afforded significant freedom due to their mother’s uselessness.  Same with distracted parents in YA novels.

If the goal was to increase relatability, I think it still misses the mark.  There is social media added in, true, but there were still the holidays where girls stay with other family members in different places for weeks on end, something I don’t see in modern novels, something that I have not seen done in my regular (American, upstate New York middle class) life. Also there is that creepy age difference again, this one the most heinous yet with Colonel Brandon being 35 and Marianne not even be legal.  I don’t know why this age difference has to be preserved in these stories.  Admittedly, she doesn’t end up with him, there is no defined exclusive relationship with them at the end, but there is still a man in his mid thirties pining over a sixteen year old who, through most of the novel, has made a total idiot of herself over her first love. Why that is appealing to a man nearly old enough to be her father who should have even less patience for her naivete due this experiences serving overseas I know not.  She is arrestingly beautiful and that’s fine, but a man falling in love with a woman mostly due to her beauty has an unappealing immaturity himself.  It’s not heroic and romantic, it’s weird and infantile and depressing.

I liked how the women all grow and change in this book, and while they miss their old home, their idleness there and lack of responsibility seemed to arrest all of their developments and they get back on track with the challenges they face in finally finding their own way.  The mother even reduces her uselessness.  I don’t know what she does all day with no job and without really parenting her children, but even she stops making Elinor deal with things all the time that she doesn’t want to deal with.  I might have to watch the movie of the original again.  I see there is a 2008 miniseries of the novel, the first three episodes free to Prime members.  Hm.  Looks like there is only one season though?

jane austen goes to hollywood.jpg

Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, Abby McDonald

BookRiot posted on retellings of Jane Austen novels, which were ferried into my wish list on Amazon to stalk prices and availability, and this was one of them.

This one might make true Austenites cringe, but it is much more relatable than the Austen Project version.  Considerably.  I think whether you like these depends on how much you need them to remain true to the original or how much you need the story to morph into a part of the modern world.  All stories have been told and retold to fit the times, and I like a story I can pick out despite it’s modern trappings.

I really liked this one.  It had the same elements, which were easy to recognize due to Trollope’s version, but done a different way:  the girls are mixed race, Dad abandoned them to an affair before he died and the new wife got the house.  Mom is an artist so she is doing something at least but consumed elsewhere.  Hallie (Marianne) is trying to make it in Hollywood, which is a flighty and ambitious goal, but their setting of L.A. doesn’t make it impossible, and the world of the rich is updated to really hit home the level of money and privilege in the world of these girls, as well as the ever changing social scene. The younger one is the more sensible one this time and working on finishing school and getting ready for college, pining quietly for her own love while her sister makes a world of dramatics over her breakup over a boy in a band who leaves her to make it big in New York.  Hallie does not have a life challenging condition like Marianne’s severe asthma to complicate things and increase the drama.  Hallie is pretty dramatic on her own.

Also, Colonel Brandon is in his early/mid 20s and he is into the 19 year old Hallie, much better, and his darkness from serving in the war creates a connection point between Hallie and him.  The attraction on his end still is a little immature, as there is still the whole dazzled by her beauty piece when she has barely seen the world and he has psychological implications from his service, but it is workable.  The relationship between the other sister and her guy is much less skeez in any version, and it was cute here.

But, as I said, considerably more relatable and readable.  I might have been more willing to tackle the original as a teenager if I had read this version when I was one.  I’m sure I have mentioned in the past that my first slog through Pride and Prejudice was the summer I turned fifteen and I read it but I could barely reach it and the implications.  I was completely turned off with no context to help me through it.

The summer of re-tellings continues!  And so does noveling!  I am doing some exercises this month to work on my pacing and reverberation.

I am considering again posting every other week over the summer, to make room for more creative writing in different veins.  I am back to training, which cuts my writing time, which requires some sacrifices if I am going to meet the goals I have for myself.

Shares/comments/likes!