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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

Tony RomoI’m not sure about all this Tony Romo bashing. It seems rather obvious and easy for everyone to point to him. It’s sort of like blaming the character holding a bloody knife over the dead body in an Agatha Christie novel. Except that person is never the one who did it.

Books are rife with such red herrings, dubious characters who turn out to be just the opposite in the end. There’s the cast-off but ever-faithful Cordelia in King Lear. The men who challenge d’Artagnan to a duel turn out to be The Three Musketeers. The scruffy Strider eventually becomes the king in The Lord of the Rings. Jane Austen was especially fond of offering up red-herring suitors: the simple farmer Mr. Martin in Emma, the not-dashing Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility, and, most notably, the pompous Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice.

Now I am *not* comparing Romo to Mr. Darcy. Robert Martin, maybe. But the point is that these red herrings distract us from the real villains at work: Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Elton respectively. Or, in Romo’s case, Jerry Jones.

Yes, it looked like Romo choked against the Redskins. (Ok, it always looks like Romo chokes.) He threw three interceptions. But some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks have had the most interceptions: Brett Favre holds the record with 361. Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino are also in the top 10, with John Elway ranked 13th overall. The fewest are by Damon Huard and Joe Ferguson—ever heard of them?

Also, it wasn’t Romo who gave up 361 yards and 28 points to the Redskins. It’s easy to blame Romo, but doesn’t that sidetrack us from the bigger, more insidious problem? After all, the Cowboys have been floundering for about 15 years now, ever since owner Jerry Jones inserted himself into the coaching process. Jones has not relinquished full control to a coach since Jimmy Johnson in the early ‘90s, coincidentally the last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl or won the Division. (Really, Switzer was mostly coming off Johnson’s coattails in ’95). Current Redskins coach, Mike Shanahan (who took the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl wins) is one of many notable coaches rumored to have declined an offer from the Cowboys because of Jones.

Back to Romo, I do wonder what he could do under a coach like Shanahan. Ok, so Romo’s not Darcy or d’Artagnan. He’s more like Professor Snape, the ultimate red herring who seemed to foil and thwart Harry Potter through all seven books, which I guess rather aptly makes Jerry Jones “He-who-must-not-be-named.”

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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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Are e-books a “radical” threat to society? Jonathan Franzen said as much at his first press conference over the weekend at the Hay Festival, in Cartagena, Columbia. “For serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience,” said the author of Freedom and The Corrections. “A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

Having been driven away from Kindle by the intrusive and annoying “popular highlights” feature, I have to agree. Yes, I know you can disable it, but the collective e-commentary on great works of literature feels like a violation. Hey, when I’m reading Anna Karenina, I want to sink into Tolstoy’s world, not be notified of that a committee of readers has highlighted a certain phrase. It’s not a work memo.

Franzen went on to argue that doing away with this sense of permanence is harmful to individuals and, thus, to society as a whole. “I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

In just a few sentences, he managed to indight e-books for the ultimate demise of the civilized world—quite the verbal sally from someone not known to mince words. Oprah-Book-Club-gate comes to mind.

E-books causing the downfall of civilization? Hmm. I thought Angry Birds was doing that. Still, Franzen’s comments struck a chord with me. I’ve always preferred physical books, and now I’m thinking that this sense of permanence—this feeling that you are holding your own, perfect piece of art—may be why. “Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it,” said Franzen. “They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper.”

It’s the interaction with this ink and paper that makes my reading experience. I love the smell of books and the stiffness of the binding that softens as you read along. I like to ruffle the corners of the pages, and I get a real satisfaction as I turn them. I run my fingers across the dust jacket, daydreaming about the design and the writing within. Despite the warning, I often buy books just for their covers.

But, no. I don’t think this makes me a more serious reader than those who are glued to their screens. Some of my bookwormiest friends are strictly e-readers. Kathleen, who runs our book club and goes through books like they are episodes of 24, was an early e-dopter. Even before Kindle, Nook, iPhone, or Google Books, Kathleen would surf arcane online collections of universities or libraries to download public-domain works. Sometimes she reads onscreen, and sometimes she prints out pages, but I think that digital ownership adds to her connection with the material. Lest anyone confuse speed with lack of seriousness, Kathleen does not read book candy (unlike me). She favors literary fiction: Ian McEwen, Philip Roth (one of her favorites), and most recently, Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, the Booker Prize winner. However someone ‘gets their read on’ works for me. It just saddens me (for them) when they don’t read at all.

Still, Franzen’s provocative comments keep turning in my head: the sense of permanence and the dangers of impermanence. It’s not just e-books, but also smartphones, tablets, laptops, video games, picture-in-picture TV screens (one show isn’t enough?) and on-demand programming—a constant stream of instant gratification. Anticipation has been largely replaced by impatience. Is it any wonder that so many of us have ADD?

“The combination of technology and capitalism has given us a world that really feels out of control,” said Franzen. He then argued that technology has empowered the bankers over elected politicians. “We are hostage to that because we like our iPhones.”

Oops, guilty. I love my iPhone and my iPad. The first thing I did was launch the iBooks app with its fun “bookshelf” graphic. My first download: The Lyrical Ballads. It’s a digital reproduction of the original 1798 edition, just as it appeared to Wordsworth and Coleridge. Well, almost. I then downloaded the books of all three Brontës, and of course, all of Jane Austen. I just love having a library in my pocket wherever I go. Ultimately though, I find the e-read is not as rewarding as the printed page.

We defenders of said page got an alarming jolt last May, when Amazon announced they were selling more e-books than bound copies. This week, we learned that Barnes & Noble is struggling to survive. Who would have thought we’d be rooting for Barnes & Noble? It does feel like the inexorable march towards an all-digital dystopia.

Yes, I do despair over about the future of books and bookstores. It’s hard not to when you consider how quickly the music industry collapsed. Does anyone buy CD’s anymore? I fear that one day I will become the biblio version of a vinyl geek, scouring the back alleys of Berlin or Hay-on-Wye for shops that actually sell old-school, printed books. Perhaps Franzen is right. For me, a bookless world would be indeed a giant leap backwards for civilization, or perhaps, a sign of Apocalypse.

The Telegraph: Jonathan Franzen: E-books are Damaging Society

The Guardian: Jonathan Franzen Warns E-books are Corroding Values

The Telegraph Blog: Franzen Wrong About E-Books

NPR: No More E-Books vs Print Books Arguments, Ok?

Fast Company: Amazon Sells More E-Books than Paper Ones

NY Times: The Bookstore’s Last Stand—Barnes & Noble in the Fight of It’s Life

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Today, December 16, is the birthday of Jane Austen. This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility. Though a classic, S & S has somewhat permeated the pop culture, as have all of Austen’s novels. Just like there are Trekkies and fanboys, there is a group of discriminating and elevated bibliophiles (ok pretty much every woman who reads) that are dedicated to all things Austen: the Janeites. Some scholars look askance at Janeitism, which Princeton professor Claudia Johnson derides as “the self-consciously idolatrous enthusiasm for ‘Jane’ and every detail relative to her.” But, as someone who has reread all of Austen’s novels several times (yes, even Mansfield Park), I do understand this fervor and frustration at the finite amount of Jane.

The Janeite phenom has spawned a burgeoning industry of Austenalia—riffs and takeoffs in print and on screen. Many of which, alas, are abysmal. Just as Star Wars fanboys might while away a Friday night watching the Clone Wars on the Cartoon Network, so will Janeites devour all sorts of faux sequels with cringe-worthy titles such as Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife or (if this can possibly be believed) Fitzwilliam Darcy: Rock Star. But this season, Janeites can rejoice in two new delightful derivatives that are above and beyond the usual dross that is fobbed on us. (Christmas-list makers take note!)

 Jane Austen Made Me Do It, ed by by Laurel Ann Nattress is an outstanding collection of short stories by writers who have decided to take the lack of Austen into their own hands. Also, Death Comes to Pemberley, by the inimitable PD James. The mystery maven offers a paean to Austen’s characters and writing style, but still imbues the novel with her trademark atmospheric suspense. I will follow up with blogs about each of these, but both are wonderfully satisfying.

Advent with AustenFinally, must give a shout-out to Advent with Austen, in which a lovely group of Janeites are reading and blogging about Jane all month.  They also have a twitter feed: #AWAusten. If you haven’t read Sense and Sensibility (seriously, you need to) then you can join in their group read.

So happy birthday to Jane and happy holidays to all the Janeites out there!

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Two weeks ago, a 68-page fragment of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons, sold at auction for $1.6 million dollars.

This might seem rather spendy, especially in these gloomy economic times, but not to those of us who have known the anguish—the pain—of unfinished Jane.

Most readers are familiar with the angst that sets in when you finish the last book of a favorite author. Even that does not compare with the agony of getting deep into such a book, only to be left hanging when it has no end.

Margaret Drabble described The Watsons as “a tantalizing, delightful and highly accomplished fragment, which must surely have proved the equal of her other six novels, had she finished it.” Tantalizing indeed.

The Watsons starts off deliciously with a neighborhood ball, a description of an agreeable “young man of very good fortune,” and an immediate rivalry among the unmarried Watson sisters. But just as the story really gets going—spoiler alert—the words end. In an attempt to ease the pain, I plunged into Austen’s other fragment, Sanditon, only to find I had instead poured salt on the wound. More than disappointment, I felt abandonment and despair.

I burned myself again with Leaving Cold Sassy, after having connected so deeply with its predecessor Cold Sassy Tree. I hadn’t bothered to read the cover blurb explaining that Olive Ann Burns died of cancer while writing it. After a buildup of 15 chapters and some 200 pages, Will Tweedy’s story ended, midstream.

The author’s notes, in these cases, do little to ease the pain. Finding out what happened is never the same as reading the novel. This is most heartbreakingly demonstrated in Irène Némirovsky’s lush masterpiece, Suite Française. Our final vignette is of an ephemeral July afternoon, Némirovsky sitting outside “on [her] blue cardigan in the middle of an ocean of leaves,” writing notes as bees buzz around her. Two days later, the Nazis carted her off to Auschwitz. Her story, and that of the characters with whom she was so preoccupied, abruptly cut off.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I know, at some point, I will reach once more for these works. No pain, no gain, … and not enough Jane.

Jane Austen’s Earliest Surviving Manuscript The Watsons Sells for $1.6MM

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