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Today I am writing about Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park over at Sarah Emsley’s blog. Mine is the twenty-seventh in a series of guest posts celebrating 200 years of Mansfield Park. For more details, open Your Invitation to Mansfield Park.

Practicing the art of Regency Era manners.

One of the great pleasures of reading Jane Austen is that while you are lured along by her refined and carefully measured prose, suddenly off the page jumps one of her distinctive zingers: “I am worn out with civility,” says Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park. Read more …

Read Mansfield Park with us!

Sarah Emsley on Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, and Edith Wharton

 

Word Hits posts on Jane Austen

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checkpoint 8 picStatus: 7 of 12 read

–5 books read and reviewed

Arabian Nights & Days by Naguib Mahfouz

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

–2 books read (review pending)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy

–5 books still in TBR Challenge Pile

The Brontës by Rebecca Fraser

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams

–2 alternates

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

–1 book tossed aside

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Well, the pile has shrunk considerably from my original, towering TBR Challenge Pile of 15 books, but still more reading to be done.

2014 TBR challenge

 2014 Pile Challenge Master List

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Marriage PlotI was surprised at how much I laughed reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. At least the first part, which lampoons life as an English major at Brown, had me in stitches. Jeffrey Eugenides (who studied English there in the early 1980s) pokes fun at the “hard-up blinky people” poring over Beowulf or Restoration drama in favor of proto-hipsters in black jeans who had discovered “the new imperium of Derrida.”

Still, he also takes aim at these oh-so-earnest semiotics students. I cracked up when one says the “idea of social introductions is so problematized.” That is the word—problematize—to toss about in seminars on literary deconstruction.

This remark also struck me because Eugenides spends the first pages of this novel introducing a literary hit list—Jane Austen, the Brontës, John Cheever, Collette, Charles Dickens, Theodore Dreiser, George Eliot, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Longfellow, Anthony Trollope, John Updike, Edith Wharton, Tennessee Williams, William Wordsworth—only to follow this with a novel that intentionally challenges tradition. We know, of course, that he is questioning “the marriage plot” as a device, but Eugenides does not seem to offer up much plot wise in its place. Instead, this book feels as if it’s really about the writing. Much like a student in the Semiotics 211 seminar, I was less concerned with the storyline than with the words themselves. I found myself pausing to appreciate the masterful sentences, with little regard to their meaning.

There is a love triangle starring Madeline Hanna, who is doing her thesis on “the marriage plot.” She falls for Leonard Bankhead, who eerily seems to resemble David Foster Wallace—though Eugenides denies this. The third wheel is Mitchell Grammaticus, a sort of variant of Eugenides himself in this roman à clef. Even readers who know little about literary theory can easily make a link between Mitchell’s surname and Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, which the students revere as sacred text (ironic, given that Derrida argued text is meaningless). The novel follows these three from graduation at Brown through their first year in the real world—a literary Reality Bites.

marriage plot paper backWhile the first half of the book reminded me of Lucky Jim or David Lodge’s satiric novels on academia, the second half seems to mirror Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther—another canonical work that Eugenides spotlights. Like Werther, Mitchell suffers painfully from unrequited love as he searches to define himself. However, I grew impatient with Mitchell and his angst (just as I had done with Werther), especially in contrast to the real demons that haunted Leonard (and by proxy Madeline) in the form of mental illness. As such, Eugenides really brought to life Leonard’s torment and his daily struggles.

Some readers have taken issue with this book’s conclusion which (spoiler alert) seems to suggest the “friends-with-benefits plot.” But, for me, the ending worked, both lyrically and literally. The last sentence seems to offer possibilities—especially for Madeleine. Unlike predecessors such as Sister Carrie or Lily Bart, she is not ruined by her associations with men. Nor is her fate sealed by marriage, like Dorothea Brooke or Isabel Archer. Madeleine escapes all of this despite the fact that she chooses to become a Victorianist (haha, good one Eugenides). Likewise, Mitchell escapes young Werther’s fate, though it is unclear whether Leonard does.

In the end, both Madeleine and Mitchell stand on equal, if uncertain, footing. While this may not serve as the postmodern solution to the marriage trope quandary, it is certainly a refreshing plot twist.

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

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Our Classics ClubHere’s my first Classics Spin list. On Monday Aug 11, The Classics Club will post a number between 1-20. That will be the book that I must read by October 6th.

My list includes old and new classics (see The Classics Club for ideas on what they consider “classics”). A few I’m eager to read, a few would be rereads, and a couple I feel I ought to read … in absolutely no particular order.

#ccspin and @ourclassicsclub on twitter

Lucky Spin Number: 17

I will be reading: The Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie

1.) The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

2.) Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

3.) Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain

4.) Greenvoe, by George Mackay Brown

5.) One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

6.) Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

7.) Suite Française, by Irene Nemirovsky

8.) Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

9.) Blandings Castle, by P.G. Wodehouse

10.) Love and Friendship, by Jane Austen

11.) The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe

12.) North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell

13.) Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier

14.) The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

15.) Under the Greenwood Tree, by Thomas Hardy

16.) Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dosteovsky

17.) The Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie

18.) In Search of a Character, by Graham Greene

19.) Anil’s Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje

20.) Adam Bede, by George Eliot

 

The Classics Spin #7

The Classics Club

#ccspin

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TBR checkpoint 5 chromeI’ve skipped a couple of checkpoints, but I’ve managed to make some progress in the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. Still, I’ve got a bit of reading to do this summer to clear the shelf!

I started with 15 books in my original TBR Challenge Pile, which stretched across the cupboard. So I am a little over one third of the way through, having knocked off six books so far.

I’ve read and reviewed 3 books :
Arabian Nights & Days by Naguib Mahfouz
A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

I’ve read 2 more that need to be written about:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy

And I’ve given up on one book that I just couldn’t get into after 81 pages:
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I must say, it is truly gratifying to see the TBR pile shrinking and to link up the reviews. So I must thank Adam at Roof Beam Reader for organizing this challenge. Now, back to the books!

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Checkpoint 2: Progress as of Feb 16

Checkpoint 1: Progress as of Jan 15

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I just loved the cover!

I picked Arabian Nights & Days by Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz to start off the Dewey’s Readathon in April, which fell on a drizzly, cheerless morning. As I love to travel to exotic and faraway places via books, I thought a trip to medieval Arabia would offer a nice antidote to such a rainy day.

Mahfouz wrote this as both a sequel and a tribute to the classic One Thousand and One Nights, and the book picks up the day after Shahrzad has told her last story. Though billed as novel, it’s really a collection of interwoven short stories that feature many of the same characters as the original fables. I do suggest reading them in order as there are a progression of subplots.

Though the stories are told as episodic vignettes, I found myself invested in the fates of the characters—particularly of the families of both Sannaan al-Gamali and Gamasa al-Bulti—as they continued to make cameos. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Shahrzad and her sister, Dunyazad, the only two female characters that are even remotely developed.

Despite the enchanting prose, the magical realism of his setting, and familiar characters like Aladdin and Sinbad, these stories feature somewhat dark and jarring plotlines. It felt a bit like the jolt one might get by turning to Grimm’s Fairy Tales after seeing the sugar-coated Disney versions of Snow White and Cinderella (and Aladdin for that matter).

Except for one charming love story, Mahfouz uses his allegorical world to spotlight modern-day problems such as police corruption, dirty politics, unjust rulers, greedy power struggles, assassinations, and the misfortunes of the downtrodden. Genies here do not seem to grant wishes but rather wreak havoc on feckless humans, forcing them to do things against their will.

“We love what you love, but between us and people is a barrier of destinies,” explains the genie Singam.

I’m sure there are many layers and allusions that I missed because I am not versed in One Thousand and One Nights—so I would especially recommend this book to readers who have an appreciation for that classic. Still, I enjoyed being transported by Mahfouz’s alluring prose to the fragrant courtyard of the Café of Emirs, to eavesdrop on conversations and people-watch vicariously.

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2014

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Dewey's Readathon April 2104

2014 TBR Challenge and Dewey’s #Readathon stack.

The Dewey’s Read-a-thon, spring or fall, is always one of my favorite weekends. A whole day dedicated to reading!!

Sign up to join us for the read-in this Sat. April 26 at 8:00 am EST.

I am hoping to make a dent in my 2014 TBR Challenge Pile, which still seems rather large as I’ve been sidetracked by other books.

So, this is a double reading challenge day for me!

One Book Completed! Arabian Days and Nights by Naguib Mahfouz

Readathon Rerack

Back to bed with book, coffee, and a very lazy dog!

It was a drizzly, rainy morning so instead of our usual am adventure, the doggie was happy to jump back in bed … and stay there!

A nice (and luxurious) boost to my Read-a-thon productivity.

Indeed it was perfect reading weather. Last April, I was distracted by the fact that is was the first sunny, warmish day in months–so I kept sneaking outside.

Second book finished!

Second book finished!

I also finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, another TBR Pile Challenge pick. So two books down and a very relaxing day. I really wanted to savor my reading time and enjoy not being on a schedule. Mission accomplished.

 

So in Need of Dewey’s Read-a-thon October 2013

Here We Go, Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2013

Read-a-thon or Read-a-5k? October 2012

Read or Cheer on the Dewey’s Read-a-thon October 2011

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