Salem’s Lot Readalong

SalemAlong buttonIt’s the first day of the Halloween month, and I’m starting the #SalemAlong—a readalong of Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. The #SalemAlong is hosted by Melissa, Trish, and Care.

Interested? Click here to join us!

Honestly, I’m a bit nervous about the nightmare factor, but I think (well, I’m told) that it will somewhat be alleviated by reading together with some of my book buddies. Strength in numbers?

I read both Under the Dome and 11/22/63 in readalongs, and it’s so fun to see everyone’s comments and reactions via twitter and blog posts.

But this is the first of King’s horror books I’ve read since Carrie, which I found much more terrifying than the movie—though the Sissy Spacek version is pretty darn scary. While I admire King, I confess that I have wimped out and gone for the film version over the books of many of his classics—It, The Shining, The Stand. Pathetic, I know.

Again, here’s the #SalemAlong welcome post and sign-up. Join us, if you dare…

If you love scary reads, also check out Murder, Monsters, and Mayhem aka #MX3, at Jenn’s Bookshelves, which celebrates horror/thriller/mystery books all month.

Salem's Lot TH#112263Along — readalong of 11/22/63

#DomeAlong — readalong of Under the Dome

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Jane's Fame LGIn 1820, three years after her death, Jane Austen’s publisher remaindered all copies of her books. She sunk into obscurity “out of print, out of demand, and almost out of mind.” Today, of course, Austen is a worldwide phenomenon.

Claire Harman offers an engrossing account of the erratic and somewhat inexorable rise of Austen’s popularity in Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. Harman flavors her narrative with diverting bits of trivia, for example Rudyard Kipling was a fervent Janeite! He considered Austen’s gravesite at Winchester Cathedral to be the second holiest place in England after Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford.

Harman begins with a look at Jane the author. In particular, I was fascinated to learn that Austen devised a proto cut-and-paste approach to revision by pinning small paper cutouts with new wording over sections of a working draft.

Austen struggled, however, to get her works published. Ultimately she sold both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice at somewhat bargain rates just to see them in print. The success of these books allowed her to get a better deal for Mansfield Park, which financially was her most successful work, earning her £30 a year. Emma, however, sold the most copies on its initial run.

Tragically, it was just as Austen was gaining success and recognition—albeit anonymously as her works were published by “a Lady”—that she died. Her tombstone made no mention of her as an author.


An 1816 first edition of Emma.

An 1816 first edition of Emma.

During the nearly 13 years her books were out of print, copies were treasured and traded by a niche of faithful readers, including several luminaries of the literary world. Sir Walter Scott had the full set and read Pride and Prejudice at least three times. Other admirers included Robert Southey, Maria Edgeworth, Benjamin Disreali, Lord Tennyson, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge—but not William Wordsworth because, according to Coleridge’s daughter, he had no sense of humor.

Both English and pirated translations of Austen’s novels were read in France, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and even in America. I was gobsmacked to learn that James Fenimore Cooper’s first novel was actually a reworking of Persuasion titled Precaution, which flopped.

In 1833, Austen’s books were reissued as part of low-cost series, Standard Novels, sort of the Penguin Classics of the day. These editions began to sell steadily, gaining steam as the Victorian age took hold. Interest in Austen the author also grew steadily, erupting by the 1870s into the cult of the “Divine Jane.” Noted literary critic Leslie Stephen, father of Virginia Woolf, lampooned this as “Austenolatry”—a riff on “Bardolatry” the cult of Shakespeare. Not long after, another critic named George Saintsbury coined the term “Janeite,” still so popular today. At Winchester Cathedral, so many visitors turned up looking for Austen that her nephew and biographer James Edward Austen-Leigh erected a memorial plaque.

Janes Fame pb

During World War I, Austen’s novels were a favorite among British soldiers and were well stocked in the trenches. They were also prescribed reading material to the wounded for their soothing and “salubrious” effects. By the 1920s, a “Janeite cabal” ran the Royal Society of Literature which would brook no criticism of the author. Beyond these hallowed halls, Austen had also exploded into the mainstream, via magazine articles, compilations, decorative special editions, and Austenalia: sequels and continuations of her novels. There was also a clamor for her letters, juvenilia, portraits, and any other related memorabilia, all of which were unearthed and published.

Jane had her share of detractors, though. Ralph Waldo Emerson had found her to be without genius or wit—a startling and somewhat paradoxical appraisal, but then he was rather severe. Surprisingly, Henry James felt she was overrated. Mark Twain’s derision of Austen has long been celebrated by her detractors, but what I didn’t know is that Twain repeatedly tried to read her works.

Still, Austen continued to gather fans: W.H. Auden, G.K. Chesterton, E.M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, Rebecca West, and even the crotchety Winston Churchill. Another unlikely candidate, Aldous Huxley, wrote the screenplay for the first film adaption of Pride and Prejudice in 1940.

Memorial plaque honoring Austen at Winchester Cathedral.

Memorial tablet honoring Jane Austen at Winchester Cathedral.

There are so many other delicious tidbits, as Harman takes us through different film adaptations and pop-culture trends to the current online zeitgeist of fansites and blogs. But I don’t want to give away the too much of the book, which I highly recommend. Throughout, Harman manages to keep Jane very much in the present with anecdotes, family memories, quotes, and a clever musings as to how Austen would react to all this. Indeed, we all wonder and that’s part of what drives our Janeite mania.

Even after reading her novels, her letters, various biographies, and, yes, many of the Austenalia takeoffs—we still thirst for more of Jane Austen.

As Harman quotes Katherine Mansfield:

“The truth is that every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone—reading between the lines—has become the secret friend of their author.”

I read this book as part of the Austen in August annual reading event hosted by Roof Beam Reader. #AusteninAugustRBR

Worn Out With Civility at Mansfield Park

Jane Austen, Genius of Economic Game Theory?

How Did I Not Know About Marvel’s Pride & Prejudice?

Kate Middleton Decried as Jane Austen Character

When Pride and Prejudice Clicks, from Boring to Brilliant

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LOTR LOST comboSeptember 22 has long been celebrated as “Hobbit Day” since it’s both Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday and is also the date when the The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) starts. In a circular twist, Peter Jackson opens and ends The Hobbit movie trilogy on this day.

September 22 is also the date, in 2004, when Oceanic 815 crashed into waters unknown, in the pilot of the series LOST.

Eerie. I can’t understand why more hasn’t been made of this—on fan sites, media, or Twitter. It seems an astoundingly important connection between these two great sagas. (Spoilers Alert!)

Both are mythical stories which involve epic quests. Although LOTR opens with Bilbo’s birthday party, Frodo doesn’t actually begin his journey until the next day. Still, it is on the twenty-second when he acquires the Ring and that is what kicks off the action.

There are many other parallels. Each tale revolves around a group of disparate characters brought together by circumstance. In LOTR, the rise of Sauron and the discovery of the Ring prompts the formation of the Fellowship and ultimately takes these characters across Middle-Earth. A plane crash maroons the LOST characters on an uncharted island, desperate to make the best of it.

Both groups are terrorized by baddies (orcs, Nazgul, Uruk Hai in LOTR; the Others, Charles Widmore’s assassins, the Dharma Initiative on LOST), supernatural forces (Sarumon’s winter, dark magic in Moria and Mordor, Sauron’s eye in LOTR; the Smoke Monster, electromagnetic powers, the time shifts in LOST), and by a supreme villain (Sauron in LOTR; The Man in Black, though some might argue Ben, in LOST). Gandalf the White serves as a guide and leader in Middle-Earth. Likewise, on LOST, the guardian Jacob is always shown in white or light-colored clothing (well, when he is on the Island).

LOTR trilogy poster

Each also features an unlikely hero who struggles to escape that role. Frodo wishes the Ring had never come to him and tries to give it to Galadriel then to Aragorn. Jack refuses to embrace faith (or fate) and just wants off the Island. Yet, each perseveres and ultimately saves the world: Middle-Earth in the case of Frodo, and our planet (not just the Island) in Jack’s. However, neither can return to the world he has saved, as they are both changed and damaged by their missions. Frodo sails into the West with the Elves. Jack sacrifices himself and dies on the Island.

Oddly, despite the September 22 connection and the fact that LOST show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse professed admiration for Tolkien, there are almost no references to the author or his works. There were a few television promos that featured Gandalf’s quote, “not all who wander are lost.” This tease had me on the lookout for Tolkien Easter eggs, to no avail. It’s strange because episodes were rife with allusions to Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, the novels of Charles Dickens, Lord of the Flies, Star Wars, and other favorites of Darlton. Charlie Pace sports a tattoo in Elvish and sometimes wears a t-shirt featuring the White Tree of Gondor, but that is because Dominic Monaghan acted as Merry Brandybuck in the LOTR movies.

Kate Austen, though, makes it off the Island to kick some orc butt in The Hobbit trilogy as Tauriel. Seriously, she was like the same character, which I loved.

Other than that, there is only a musical theme entitled “Down the Hobbit Hole” which plays when Jack and Locke (aka the Man in Black) lower Desmond down to the Source in the finale. But this is also a riff on Alice in Wonderland (Down the Rabbit Hole), and it’s a bit of a mislead because Desmond enters a creepy cave full of skeletons and gloom, whereas Tolkien assures us that hobbit holes are nothing like this.

“Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

He writes in The Hobbit and goes on to describe a cosy dwelling with polished brass, paneled walls, tiled floors, comfortable chairs, and lots of coat hooks as “the hobbit was fond of visitors.”

In the end, it may be that the choice of September 22 for the crash of Oceanic 815 was a merely a coincidence of the network programming schedule. Or perhaps—like so many other unexplained happenings on LOST—it was engineered by “the Island.”

Ten Ways to Celebrate Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week

The Hobbit: My Own Unexpected Journey

LOST Under the Dome

Happy Hobbitversary! 75 Years On

A Tolkien Travesty: Nobel Jury Not so Noble

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Viva La Bloggiesta!

Bloggiesta Sept 2015I somewhat dropped the ball with my blog posts. Oops. I’ve had all sorts of other commitments … but don’t we all?

But, I’m turning over a new book leaf and looking to Bloggiesta for insight and inspiration. This event, which runs through Sunday, offers amazing advice on key blog improvement topics, everything from Building an Email List to TweetDeck to Search Engine Optimization to Digital Photography and many more. There’s also a primer on basics for new bloggers.

The team behind this is a pretty sophisticated and successful bunch of bloggers. So whether you are a new blogger or have been at it a while, you can find a helpful (and generous!) stream of information and resources. Bloggiesta makes it fun via mini-challenges and twitter chats. But all of this is archived and accessible at their website … even topics and challenges from all the previous Bloggiestas. It’s a veritable encyclopedia of blogging … available to all!

In particular, I found the Creating Post Templates for More Streamlined Blogging mini-challenge extremely helpful. Now I can create templates and just upload the content without clicking all the Word Press options or writing html to create each post. Clutch! I’ve had a lot of experience working with html so I was just coding the blogs via the html option. Timesuck. Templates sound so easy but it does take some time to figure this out on your own via the idiosyncracies of WordPress. Trish from Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity gives a step-by-step instruction complete with screen shots and useful tips.

My Bloggiesta To Do List:

–create templates as part of the mini-challenge

–crank out a few advance posts so I am not writing them on the fly

–write up an edit calendar for scheduling said posts
(I did this when I first started blogging and it really helps.)

–post one blog a week going forward

This is behind-the-scenes stuff, so by next spring’s Bloggiesta my To Do List will be more whiz-bang.

To learn more or to participate, check out Bloggiesta.com or @Bloggiesta or #Bloggiesta.

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Classics Club Spin #10

Our Classics ClubHere’s my Classics Spin #10 list. The Spin is hosted by The Classics Club who pick a number between 1-20 and that is the book that all participants have to read.

Once again, I dodged a bullet and got a book I was hoping to read: Village School, by Miss Read. Last time I lucked out with The Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie.  I’m pretty sure this means next time I will get Bleak House!

This list includes old and newer classics (see The Classics Club for ideas on what they consider “classics”) and a few rereads.

#ccspin and @ourclassicsclub on twitter

Lucky Spin Number: 5

I will be reading: Village School, by Miss Read

1.) War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

2.) Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

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

4.) Greenvoe, by George Mackay Brown

5.) Village School, by Miss Read

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

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

8.) Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brien

9.) Adam Bede, by George Eliot

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

11.) Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

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

13.) North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell

14.) The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe

15.) Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

16.) Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

17.) Under the Greenwood Tree, by Thomas Hardy

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

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

20.) Anil’s Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje

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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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