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ccreadathon2 The 2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon takes place Sat. Jan 4th.

What better way to start the New Year than by reading classic literature?! Indeed, a cosy day of tea and classics will be most therapeutic before we all get back to reality on Monday.

Read my Intro Post and Readathon Progress Updates.

The 24-hour readathon kicks off at 8 am EST.  Sign up and join us!!

I have four books at the ready in my readathon pile, although I most certainly won’t get through all of them. I do not like to rush when I’m reading, especially not when I am reading classics. Classic literature is to be savored.

I’ve selected two novels and two collections of shorter writings. Check out my readathon progress.

classics readathon 1

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen is top of my hit list. This year marks the 200th anniversary of MP, so I am very excited to get into the celebratory spirit. This will be the fifth or sixth time I have read “my least favorite” Jane Austen novel. Still, it’s by Jane Austen, so it is of course a standout among books.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson— I think adventure on the high seas will be a nice offset to Fanny’s quiet world, though I suppose it would pair better with Persuasion and Captain Wentworth. Both Treasure Island and Mansfield Park are bildungsroman (coming-of-age) novels, so they work well together in that sense.

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton—I love Edith Wharton’s writing, and I was happy to discover this collection of her stories about Old New York society. I always find it fascinating to read her descriptions of the city, as many of her landmarks are still there.

What is Art by Leo Tolstoy—The Russian master theorizes on “the role of the artist,” in this collection of essays on art, culture, and society. Tolstoy also details his visits to the opera and other contemporary happenings. I made sure to secure Penguin Classic edition, translated by the award-winning duo: Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

WordHits: Classics Club Readathon Intro Post and Progress Update

Classics Club Readathon Official Starting Post #ccreadathon

The 2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon

Readathon Sign-Up

#ccreadathon hosted by @ourclassicsclub on Twitter

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top 10 books read so far 2013

Some of my Top 10–the others have been passed along.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blogger’s meme organized by The Broke and The Bookish. This week this topic is the Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2013.

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
Technically I read this late last year, but I just loved it! It’s even better than Wolf Hall. I had to give it a shout-out as I’ve been meaning to blog about Mantel.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (reread)
I have been rereading this in several iterations for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge. I was so excited to also discover a graphic novel version by Marvel.

Eventide, by Kent Haruf
Haruf returns to Holt, Colorado in his spare, inviting prose. This is a truly satisfying sequel to Plainsong, which I loved. I enjoyed but am not gushing over Benediction, his new book which takes place years later with a different cast.

My Ántonia, by Willa Cather (reread)
This achingly beautiful classic shows the hard life of early settlers in Nebraska. Cather paints a vivid and nostalgic picture of the last days of the red-grass prairies and that immense, untracked emptiness.

The Other Typist, by Suzanne Rindell
This is a twisty, pulpy, noir with a devious unreliable narrator. Rindell infuses her tale with the snazzy glamour of 1920’s New York: speakeasies, flappers, and lavish parties in the Hamptons.

Revolutionary Summer, by Joseph J Ellis
A fascinating and stirring read. Those who don’t normally read historical non-fiction will be quickly drawn in, and history buffs will find several new aspects to consider.

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
I have long been entranced by the poetic, magical realism spun by Erdrich. This book also pulls readers along with a thread of suspense. This is not my favorite by Erdrich, but a very good book nonetheless.

Sinners and the Sea, by Rebecca Kanner
Kanner has given us a sharply drawn work of literary fiction that is also an addictive read. Narrated by Noah’s unnamed wife, this is a bit like Noah’s Ark meets The Red Tent meets the Titanic-in-reverse.

A Storm of Swords, by G.R.R. Martin
I cannot recommend these books enough! Martin has me totally wrapped up in this magical, mysterious realm. Be warned though—this series is unputdownable book crack.

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
Ah, another bubbly, chic-lit delight from Sophie Kinsella. This is one of her best and funniest, right up there with the first two Shopaholic books. Breezy, book candy. #BeachRead

Under the Dome, by Stephen King (almost done)
Ok, this makes 11, but I am surprised by how much I’m enjoying this! I haven’t read much King and was spurred to pick this up by the #DomeAlong group read. Suspense, psychological intrigue, and loaded with King’s trademark easter eggs.

What is the best book you have read so far this year? I’d really appreciate some book recommendations, please.

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Top Ten TBRTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blogger’s meme organized by The Broke and The Bookish. This week this focus is the Top Ten Books in the To Be Read pile.

1.) TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
I just got my hands on this book which has garnered wonderful reviews. I really loved Let the Great World Spin, McCann’s ode to the Twin Towers.

2.) No One Could Have Guessed the Weather by Anne-Marie Casey
I’ve already started this novel in stories about an expat Brit who find herself transferred to hip East Village New York with her husband. So far seeming a breezy summer read.

3.) Jane Austen Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
I am completely fascinated just by the notion that Jane Austen was a shrewd, pioneer in Game Theory Economics—well, in the strategy because it didn’t then exist per se as a discipline.

4.) Ireland by Frank Delaney
I have wanted to read this epic book for ages! I have become a fan of Irish author and broadcaster Delaney via his twitter feed. I just bought his book to take along on my trip to West Cork in July.

5.) Under the Dome by Stephen King
I am about halfway through this book, which I am reading as part of the #DomeAlong group read. If you are interested you can still join us in the readalong.

6.) And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Hearing lots of great things about the latest from Hosseini. I hate being the last to read a book, so must get cracking.

7.) Together Tea by Marjan Kamali
I read an online excerpt from this delightful debut novel, which seems like a cosy, upbeat read. I just need to dash out and purchase a copy.

8.) The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett
Shakespeare, suspense, historical flashback—this book sounds so tempting. I am hoping it will be right up there with Possession. Not quite in the TBR pile, as I need to procure.

9.) The Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
Even before the whole Snowden/NSA scandal broke, this book is by former CIA operative had been getting lots of buzz for it’s realistic look at our espionage relations with Russia. Still need to pick up a copy via dead drop.

10.) Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks
I’m reading this for another take on one of my all-time favorite books, as part of the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge and year–long celebration.

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Jane Austen Game TheoristWe all know that reading Jane Austen is good for you. Scientists at Stanford proved this last fall with MRI scans that showed reading Austen’s work boosted neural activity and even increased blood flow to the brain. Now, it turns out, we Janeites have also been unwittingly indulging in sophisticated Game Theory Economics.

Yes, Game Theory—the very discipline which garnered John Nash (of A Beautiful Mind fame) the Nobel Prize in Ecnomics.

UCLA professor Michael Suk-Young Chwe argues this in his new book, Jane Austen Game Theorist.

Instead of bothering with chalk boards and lengthy variable-laden formulas, Austen imparts economic wisdom via the subtext of Marianne Dashwood’s swoons—indeed, Chwe cites this as an example. Who knew that while I was reading about Fanny Price deciding which necklace to wear, I was actually engaging in “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation.”

As I reread Pride and Prejudice for the 200th Anniversary, I will be subconsciously learning the mathematical analysis of strategic thinking. Just like when moms puree broccoli to hide in brownies. And all this time I thought I hated math.

Seriously though, tremendous kudos to Chwe for giving us yet another way to examine Austen’s work. If more economists read Austen, perhaps we could finally settle the debate over the Laffer Curve.

Chwe’s emphasis, however, is more on the political ramifications of Austen’s strategic thinking, and I must say I am fascinated by his approach. According to Chwe, Jane’s observations and theories can be applied to the Cold War stalemate, as well as to military mistakes made in both Vietnam and Iraq. And that’s just what I have gleaned from reviews and excerpts … I cannot wait to actually get my hands on this book!

Janeites, this would be a perfect pick for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013.

All this does make me feel better about myself, mathematically speaking. Even though I struggled with trigonometry in high school, I made it through each of Austen’s books twice so I must have actually been a math prodigy. I’m also feeling rather smug about opting out of ‘Intro to Economics’ in college for a course that compared Northanger Abbey to the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (No joke—great class!)

One can’t help but feel bad for those poor souls who actually studied economics. Why bother with the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times when you can just read Emma? Or Jane Austen, Game Theorist?

Given that prominent economists like Thomas Schelling (Nobel 2005) endorse this book, I do wonder if the all-knowing Jane also offers clues as to how I should invest my IRA? I will have to keep this in mind as I dig into Jane Austen, Game Theorist, and when I reread Persuasion.

Economics, Game Theory, and Jane Austen via PBS NewsHour

Game Theory: Jane Austen Had it First via The New York Times

More Austen on WordHits…

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

When Pride and Prejudice Clicks: Boring to Brilliant

How Did I Not Know about Marvel’s Pride & Prejudice

Kate Middleton Decried as Jane Austen Character

So Glad Jane Austen Made Me Do It

A Joyous Season for Janeites

Spoiler Alert: This Book Has No Ending

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beach winter 2Spring has taken its time. I went to the beach for Easter, but it was chilly, and the sun slanted across the sand at a winter angle. Today, the winds howl and the rains pour. I think of how, on a much colder day deep with snow, Emily Dickinson consoled herself with words and images of summer.

#342 by Emily Dickinson

It will be Summer — eventually.
Ladies — with parasols —
Sauntering Gentlemen — with Canes
And little Girls — with Dolls —

Will tint the pallid landscape —
As ’twere a bright Bouquet —
Tho’ drifted deep, in Parian —
The Village lies — today —

The Lilacs — bending many a year —
Will sway with purple load —
The Bees — will not despise the tune —
Their Forefathers — have hummed —

The Wild Rose — redden in the Bog —
The Aster — on the Hill
Her everlasting fashion — set —
And Covenant Gentians — frill —

Till Summer folds her miracle —
As Women — do — their Gown —
Or Priests — adjust the Symbols —
When Sacrament — is done —

April is National Poetry Month

Emily Dickinson Bio, Poems, & More via Poetry Foundation

Emily Dickinson Museum

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triple covers

How, HOW did I not know that Marvel published a comic book, er graphic novel, of Pride & Prejudice?! It came out three years ago. I am hugely, abominably embarrassed. I wouldn’t even share this mortifying tale, except for the hope that others might benefit.

Let me say up front that this Marvel P&P is a gem. Regency romance meets comic book—pure genius!

p and p danceAs a kid, I loved Betty and Veronica and all the superheroes comics. I don’t read them much anymore. (I go to all the movies!) When I see the Marvel or DC logo, warm memories of childhood summers flush to the surface. For Christmas, I got my 10-year-old godson the DC Comics Encyclopedia. He already had the Marvel one (the boy is very advanced).

To blend Marvel with Jane Austen is such a frothy new twist (well, to me). The illustrations really capture the characters—except Mr. Collins could be more repellent. Also, Pemberley looks a bit like the White House, but overall the settings are spot on. The editors chose the best quotes—the banter between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, the snobbery of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. They even included the moment when Darcy acknowledges that Jane Bingley is very pretty, “though she smiled too much.”

Here’s another great way to celebrate Pride and Prejudice’s 200th Anniversary. Even better news: Marvel has also come out with Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Emma. I haven’t been this excited since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

fun extra coverAusten Fans Celebrate 200 Years of ‘Pride and Prejudice’

When Pride and Prejudice Clicks: Boring to Brilliant

So Glad Jane Austen Made Me Do It

A Joyous Season for Janeites

Spoiler Alert: This Book Has No Ending

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Kate MiddletonIn an attempt to criticize Kate Middleton, British radio host Sandi Toksvig has dismissed her as being ‘very Jane Austen.’ Now I cannot even begin to fathom how that could be construed as negative, but it gets worse. Toksvig complains of Kate, “I cannot think of a single opinion she holds—it’s very Jane Austen.”

Clearly Toksvig has never actually read any Jane Austen, because her books are almost entirely composed of characters giving their opinions.

In fact, Austen’s novels were actually rather progressive in her day because her heroines were so expressive. Spirited Elizabeth Bennet readily speaks her mind, much to the discomfiture of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who remarks “upon my word, you give your opinion most decidedly.” Mr Darcy notices this also, and it’s one of the things that draws him to Lizzy.

Emma Woodhouse also shares her opinions eagerly, even when, as noted by Mr. Knightley, they are completely off-base. “Mr Knightly loves to find fault with me,” she tells her father. “We always say what we like to one another.” Indeed, Emma dislikes Jane Fairfax precisely because “there was no getting at her real opinion. Wrapt up in a cloak of politeness, [Jane] seemed determined to hazard nothing She was disgustingly, was suspiciously reserved.”

Marianne dashwoodMarianne Dashwood, aka ‘sensibility,’ is most demonstrative about her romantic ideals. Her sister Elinor, who has more ‘sense,’ is equally ready to counter with arguments for reason. To Colonel Brandon she worries that Marianne’s openness is “setting propriety at nought.”

Also in this novel, the respectable and educated Edward Ferrars realizes that he cannot love Lucy Steele when her letters contain flattery but no substance.

While Persuasion’s Anne Elliot may be reserved, her opinion is well-regarded (except by her unkind father and sister). After Louisa Musgrove’s accident, both her brother Charles and war hero Captain Wentworth turn to Anne for advice and leadership. “‘Anne,’ cried Charles. ‘What is to be done next?’”

Even Fanny Price, the ‘Most Likely to be Voted a Pushover,’ takes a stand when her cousins plan to perform a risqué play. She also, despite enormous pressure, refuses to marry the disingenuous Henry Crawford, which gets her banished from Mansfield Park. Both Fanny and Lizzy Bennet decline financially advantageous proposals from foppish men, despite the very real threat of indigence and homelessness.

If Kate Middleton is like a Jane Austen character, it is because she exhibits a similar tempered resolve as well as much grace under challenging circumstances. Why all this Kate bashing? Ahem, Hilary Mantel.

P and P sistersIn addition to strong heroines, Austen liked to poke fun with a variety of foolish, ill-informed, and opinionated characters. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, though she has never studied piano, determinedly criticizes the finger work, style, and execution of anyone who plays for her. From the tiresome Mr. Collins, to the know-it-all Mrs. Elton, to the pompous Sir Walter Elliot, these caricatures opine confidently, and often nonsensically, on topics they know nothing about. Does this not seem rather like Sandi Toksvig in her disparaging of Jane Austen (and of Kate)? Perhaps it is Toksvig who is the Jane Austen character after all.

British Radio Host Hits Out at Duchess of Cambridge as ‘Very Jane Austen’

Author Hilary Mantel Calls Kate Middleton ‘Plastic’ and ‘Designed to Breed’

Hilary Mantel Defends Kate Middleton Comments

Royal Bodies — A Lecture by Hilary Mantel

Jane Austen Bio and Links via JaneAusten.org

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books as clockI don’t know what it is about ‘Spring Forward,’ but I always find myself reshuffling my TBR pile. During winter, the early darkness and the cold winds prompt me to reach for heavier, atmospheric tomes. I started off November with Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s study of Thomas Cromwell versus Anne Boleyn. I followed that with mostly moody fare like G.R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë, and one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, Richard III (after they found him in a parking lot in Leicester). Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies feel like winter reading, but the comedies seem more apropos to spring and summer—except of course, Twelfth Night and A Winter’s Tale, which I should really put in my rotation next December.

Now, the changing of the clocks and all that extra daylight are teasing me with spring fever. I’m aching for sunnier, lighter reading. I particularly enjoy reading Jane Austen in the spring. I love the brightness and delicacy of her writing. Over the weekend, I reread Pride and Prejudice (for the 200th anniversary!), which Charlotte Brontë decried as “a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers.” But, that’s exactly what I am craving right now: literature that can fill the flower gap while my daffodils inch out of the ground.

One of my ritual spring reads is usually the newest No 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel. Alexander McCall Smith’s descriptions of, “the clear and constant sun,” the acacia trees, and Botswana’s dry, dusty plains work almost like a few hours in front of a sunlamp—a literary jolt of vitamin D. I am so vexed that the latest title has been pushed to November. I got a similar escape to desert heat, when I read The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad, which takes place in the tribal regions of Pakistan.

The LacunaThis spring, I plan to finally reach for The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel about Diego Rivera in Mexico. I’m embarrassed to admit that I will be digging into the hardcover, which I bought ages ago. (Sigh, the perils of the TBR.) Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, The Bean Trees, and Pigs in Heaven are also great reads for the sun-starved.

Finally, spring fever makes me crave page-turners, so both Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and the new Sophie Kinsella, Wedding Night, will be at the top of my pile. If only I didn’t have to wait until April for Sophie!

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P&P pen classicToday, January 28, marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and celebrations abound both here and in the U.K. For many years now, P&P has been one of my favorite books. I confess, however, that when I first tried to read it I simply could not get into it. I was 15, and having been primed on Judy Blume and Danielle Steele, I wasn’t ready to appreciate Austen’s refined language and her subtle, yet nice, plot pacing (‘nice’ here in its regency-era connotation).

The characters all seemed stiff and a bit dull. Austen does a great job early on of making Mr. Darcy seem like rather a jerk, nor was the landed gentry thing working for me. My taste in heroes ran more towards Indiana Jones. But my eldest sister made me promise to finish, so on I read … until I got to the letter that Darcy writes Elizabeth after she has refused his marriage proposal:

“Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you.”

I burst into laughter, caught myself, and read it again. I ran to ask my sister who said that yes it was supposed to be funny. Suddenly, Mr. Darcy had some spunk and personality. I won’t go into the letter, which has important plot points. But through that missive, both Elizabeth Bennett and I became acquainted with a different side of Darcy. He’s actually very clever and amusing, something that Colin Firth managed to bring out so perfectly in the must-see BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice.

Recent editions of Pride and Prejudice.

Recent editions of Pride and Prejudice.

Not only did I fall for Darcy, I finally fell for Jane Austen. I flipped back to earlier parts of the book. Aha. Now I saw Mrs. Bennett as silly comic relief (not just tiresome). I howled when Mr. Bennett, weary of hearing about Mr. Bingley at the ball, retorts “say no more of his partners. Oh! That he had sprained his ankle in the first dance!” I just loved the supercilious Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who scowls at Elizabeth’s piano playing and boasts: “if I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

Aside from the caricatures, I grew to know the keen, observant, and witty ‘Lizzy’ Bennett. Instead of pining over sonnets, she quips, “I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!” Then, after her disastrous encounter with Darcy and her dear sister Jane’s own broken heart, Lizzy heads off on a walking tour. “Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I raced through Pride and Prejudice, with newfound enthusiasm, and then devoured Austen’s other novels. Like most Janeites, I’ve reread them so often that whole sections seem to be lodged in my head. My favorite keeps changing—sometimes Emma, sometimes Persuasion—really, must one choose? Still, Pride and Prejudice will forever be special to me because it sparked me to ‘get’ Jane Austen.

Austen Fans to Celebrate 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice

So Glad Jane Austen Made Me Do It

A Joyous Season for Janeites

Spoiler Alert: This Book Has No Ending

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ImageAs it’s Jane Austen’s birthday, December 16th, and also the season of giving, I wanted to spotlight an absolutely delightful collection of Austen-inspired short stories, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress.

I should preface by saying that I am usually very skeptical about all the Jane Austen riffs. I avoid them as they can be painful, excruciating, to read. Mr. Darcy has been reimagined as everything from a hillbilly to a rock star to a (groan) vampire. (Thanks a lot Twilight!) All of this pop-culture running roughshod over Austen is simply “not to be bourne.” (Disclaimer here: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is pure genius, but that’s for another post.)

Part of the problem is that these knock-offs only make me pine for authentic Jane even more. But now, Janeites take note—the drought is over! A wonderful collection of short stories has done the unimaginable, the unthinkable. Austen’s beloved characters have come to life again in an enchanting series of vignettes, many of which are backstories or codas to our favorite novels. Well before Persuasion, Captain Wentworth earns his stripes as a Midshipman in the Royal Navy. We learn how Mr. Bennett landed himself his “very silly wife.” The now married Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy prepare for Georgiana’s ‘Coming Out’ ball. And, things get complicated when Mr. Knightley moves in with Emma and her father. Teensy spoiler alert: this story also offers happy news for poor Miss Bates. I loved getting another glimpse at these characters. It’s almost like the bonus deleted scenes you get with a dvd.

Jane Austen herself makes a few cameos, finishing up her Mansfield Park manuscript, and also acting as a sort of deus ex machina for star-crossed lovers in a very Austenesque Christmas tale. A few of the stories take place in modern times, including a clever ghost-busting romp in Northanger Abbey. The only glitch is that current owner, Mr. Tilney-Tilney, comes off sounding a bit more like Thurston Howell the Third than a British gentleman. Still, it’s a fun little parody, much in the vein of the original and complete with papers appearing and disappearing in the very chest that so vexed Catherine Morland. Indeed, most of the stories have similar sly ‘easter egg’ allusions for Janeites to uncover.

While, no one else can write like Jane Austen, these stories come close and they certainly capture her spirit. The collection reads almost like the literary equivalent to a tribute album.

Janeites will certainly delight in and savor Jane Austen Made Me Do It. A perfect Christmas gift. I usually pass books along, but this one is a keeper.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It–official link

A Joyous Season for Janeites

Jane Austen Unfinished Fragment Sold for $1.6 Million

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