Sunday, April 11, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 29 & 30

And now we enter the sad and wretched part of the book where Marianne Is As Sad As Is Humanly Possible.  All the time.  Poor thing :-(  I mean, yes, she throws herself into "excessive affliction" and "most nervous irritability" with great abandon, but she truly has reason to be heartbroken.  I mean, does anyone else here want to punch Willoughby in the face?  Hard?  Just because Marianne kind of goes overboard with the grieving doesn't mean her grief isn't real and warranted.

Here's something interesting that I learned from my annotated version:  London had its own postal system, separate from the national postal system of Great Britain, called the "two-penny post."  For two pennies, you could get a letter to anywhere in London in an hour or so.  Amazing!!! Anyway, this is how Marianne is able to send a letter to Willoughby early in the morning, probably by the 8:00 mail collection, and Willoughby gets it in time to have his reply delivered to her somewhere around 11:00.  My goodness, how speedy and efficient!  

Anyway, we get to see something very illuminating in chapter 29:  Elinor crying violently.  Which provides us with proof that she is definitely capable of experiencing strong emotions.  She just has learned how to choose when to give way to them and when to hold them inside.  Also, it shows us that she's extremely sympathetic with Marianne's plight.  She agrees that it this terrible.  Which makes Marianne's outburst toward her sister, claiming that Elinor "cannot have an idea of what I suffer" so obviously unjust.  Sigh.

As for Mrs. Jennings, I say, hurrah for her!  She may be fond of gossip and teasing, but she is an absolute brick when it comes to standing by an injured friend.  She does everything she can think of to help ease Marianne's sadness, and it's not her fault that she's so different from Marianne that nothing she can think of actually helps.  I mean, she even offers to let Marianne "name her own supper," which means she'd have to change the pre-arranged menu she'd agreed on (possibly days in advance) with her cook.  Possibly have to send someone to purchase different food.  She's willing to put herself and her staff to the expense and trouble of that, just to cheer up a girl who constantly belittles and avoids her.  Hurrah for Mrs. Jennings!

Discussion Questions:

1.  Does anyone else think that Willoughby has been exceedingly foxy and clever in having managed to never actually tell Marianne he loved her?  (At that time, declaring your romantic love to someone was considered the same as a proposal.)

2.  Do you want to say "hurrah for Mrs. Jennings" too?  Or are you more of Marianne's opinion of her?

Friday, April 9, 2021

"Swallows and Amazons" by Arthur Ransome

What a perfectly marvelous book!  I absolutely loved this story and these characters, and I can't wait to read the next book in the series.  Read it aloud to my kids, I mean, which is what I did with this one.

Four siblings (John, Susan, Titty, and Roger) visit the Lake District in Great Britain with their mother and baby sister while their father is busy working.  Because this is the early twentieth century, they get permission to sail out to an island and camp there for several weeks, and have many adventures, both on the island and on their boat, the Swallow.  They make friends with two sisters who sail their own boat and call themselves the Amazons, and after having a merry war, they make peace and continue having adventures together.  Believable, jolly, sometimes exciting adventures that I just loved.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Clean, wholesome, and sweet.

This is my 18th book read and reviewed for my 3rd Classics Club list, and my 15th read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 27 & 28

Oh, Marianne.  You poor thing.  It's not at all shocking that you're confused by Willoughby's behavior and feeling faint.  It's such a good thing that Elinor came along to London to take care of you!

It strikes me as a little... ironic?  funny? that Colonel Brandon is basically turning into the epitome of a Romantic hero, pining away for an unattainable love and making himself a bit despondent in the process... and Marianne can't see it.  Sigh.

Okay, something I learned from my annotated edition this time around, regarding shaking hands.  It says that men and women would only shake hands with someone of the opposite sex who was closely connected to them by blood or marriage, or impending marriage.  So Marianne wanting to shake hands with Willoughby shows that she basically considers herself to be engaged with him, whereas his refusal to shake hands with her is basically his rejecting any such close connection.  Which people in Austen's day would totally have understood, since this was the common rule of propriety at the time, but we don't really get, so I'm glad the book mentioned it, and I'm passing that along.

It's so interesting that Elinor feels that her own situation, of never being able to marry Edward, is now better and/or more comfortable than Marianne's, because at least she doesn't have to feel ashamed of him for doing the right thing by standing by his previous promises to Lucy Steele.  Whereas, Willoughby has dropped Marianne like a hot potato, and you just can't think well of a guy who'll do that.  It's a very small bit of comfort, but comfort nonetheless.

Discussion Questions:

1.  How do you think this would have all proceeded if Elinor had stayed home?  Would Marianne have behaved any differently?

2.  Do you think better of Lady Middleton now, because she was willing to abandon her own pursuit of entertainment to take Marianne and Elinor home early from the party?  Was this kindness, or only good manners?

Monday, April 5, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 25 & 26

Hey, check it out!  We're past the halfway mark for this book!

You know, Mrs. Jennings may be a gossipy old busybody, with a tendency to use uncultured language and talk about improper subjects... but she has a good heart, and a good sense of humor too!  She's generous, kind, considerate of the physical comfort of others, and really does look after the young ladies in her care.  She gives Elinor and Marianne full permission to "laugh at my odd ways behind my back" (p. 284) and is generally just... a fun person to be around, as long as you don't have any secret sweethearts to get teased about.

According to my annotated copy, Barton would be about 175 miles from London, and if carriages and such usually traveled at a rate of about 8 miles an hour when on good roads... it would definitely take them several days to get there.  They're not just being lazy and poky.  Can you imagine spending nine or ten hours a day in a jouncing, jostling carriage?  For two and a half days?  Oh man, no wonder Elinor was a little reluctant to go!

But we get to London at last.  And are promptly visited by Colonel Brandon.  The plot proceeds apace. 

Discussion Questions:

1.  I think this is the only Austen book where the heroines get to travel to London.  But London was an exceedingly popular and important place to go.  Jane herself traveled there many times.  Any thoughts on why she didn't set more book scenes there?

2.  Have you ever traveled in a horse-drawn vehicle? 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

"Recipe for Persuasion" by Sonali Dev

Although this takes place following Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev, you can read Recipe for Persuasion on its own and be fine.  Obviously, they both retell Jane Austen novels.

In Recipe for Persuasion, Ashna Raje is slowly losing her late father's restaurant.  Calling her relationship with her mother "strained" would be laughably underestimating their emotionally fraught battles.  A few years earlier, a therapist "diagnosed her with PTSD resulting in acute clinical depression and anxiety" (p. 92), and Ashna battles her way through a lot of resulting issues throughout this story.

Ashna is convinced she can untangle the mess her life has become herself... until the last person in the world she ever wants to see again steps back into her life.  She and Rico Silva, world-famous soccer star, were high school sweethearts, and when they end up paired together on a reality cooking show, everything in Ashna's life unravels faster than she can imagine.

The thing with unraveling a mess is that you can create something new and orderly out of it, once you finish the painful process of untying all the knots.  Which Ashna eventually can appreciate, but it takes her a long time.  

This book was a lot of fun, since I love to cook, but it also kind of left me wrung out for a day or so.  Just so you know.  I liked it better than Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, mostly because I liked Ashna much better than the heroine of that one.  But neither of them are books I'd re-read.

Particularly Good Bits:

The downside of choosing cowardice was that there was only so long you could hide.  Problems were patient.  They always waited you out (p. 22).

"Being who you're not takes too much energy" (p. 270).

In every part of her life, that was all she ever wanted to be, forcefully the same on the inside and the outside.  Able to say what she wanted to say, able to do what she wanted to do, able to think of herself as she wanted to be thought of (p. 387).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R.  Very R.  Discussion of marital rape, lots of suggestive dialog, a love scene that is pretty graphic until it fades to black, lots of thinking about sexual topics, and quite a bit of bad language.  I skimmed several parts that went beyond my comfort level.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 23 & 24

Please note that this is the only read-along post I'll be writing this week.  I'm just too busy during Holy Week, and I suspect a lot of you are too.  We'll go back up to six chapters next week.

I've got to admit I don't have a lot to say about these two chapters.  First we have Elinor thinking about what she learned from Lucy about Edward, and then we have Elinor and Lucy discussing Lucy's situation in obliquely sly and snarky ways.  And that's that.

My annotated edition did have one really interesting thought in it that I want to share, though.  It says of Edward that "[e]ven his hesitation to choose a profession might result in part from his reluctance to take a step that, by providing him with a more regular income, would advance the day of his marriage to Lucy" (p. 255).  I had not thought of that!  Ever!  I always just thought Edward couldn't figure out what he wanted to do, but I do think this is really possible, that he's just delaying this because he can put off marrying Lucy this way.

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you think it's possible that Edward has been delaying choosing a profession because it means he can put off marrying Lucy?

2.  If you haven't read this before, are you surprised by how much of the book revolves around monetary concerns?

That's all for this week, friends.  May you have a blessed Easter!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" by J. K. Rowling

This is my favorite Harry Potter book.  It's the book that made me a real fan of the series, and it's the book that gave me my favorite character in that universe, Sirius Black.

I love this book so much, I lingered over it and made it last me for days and days instead of gobbling it down like I did the first two.  I would pause at favorite bits and savor them.  I reread my favorite page in the whole series multiple times.  I stopped and reread my favorite two chapters.  I let myself savor the story, the characters, the writing.  It was a glorious reread.

Happy times.

I was very much struck, this time, with Snape's correct assessment of Harry's character flaws.  He says, "famous Harry Potter is a law unto himself.  Let the ordinary people worry about his safety!  Famous Harry Potter goes where he wants to, with no thought for the consequences" (p. 284).  How right you are, Snape!  Harry really does think he can do just about anything, and so far, he's gotten out of some bad scrapes pretty handily that he wouldn't have really needed to get out of if he hadn't gotten himself into them in the first place.  

This is a common thing in kids books, where kids just ignore the wise adults and go their merry way and solve everything on their own by doing ridiculously dangerous things.  I'm glad Rowling addresses that issue in her series, that she shows that this is NOT a good way to go about things, especially as the series progresses.  Yes, Harry is not an ordinary boy... but he's also only a boy.  And his stubborn belief that He Knows Best does have serious consequences at times.  As Lupin says about himself and his friends at Harry's age, "We were young, thoughtless -- carried away with our own cleverness" (p. 355).  It's a dangerous business, being young and thinking you're invincible.

Part of me wants to just stop here, with a vast array of possibilities ahead for Sirius and Harry, everything hopeful and unknown.  I won't.  I'll keep rereading the series.  But I'm also going to very much enjoy the next couple of weeks before I start book four, of living in this in-between world for a bit.

(Mine from my Instagram account.)

Particularly Good Bits:

Meanwhile, in the rest of the castle, the usual magnificent Christmas decorations had been put up, despite the fact that hardly any of the students remained to enjoy them.  Thick streamers of holly and mistletoe were strung along the corridors, mysterious lights shone from inside every suit of armor, and the Great Hall was filled with its usual twelve Christmas trees, glittering with golden stars.  A powerful and delicious smell of cooking pervaded the corridors, and by Christmas Eve, it had grown so strong that even Scabbers poked his nose out of the shelter of Ron's pocket to sniff hopefully at the air (p. 222).

"What was there to be gained by fighting the most evil wizard who has ever existed?" said Black, with a terrible fury in his face.  "Only innocent lives, Peter!" (p. 375).

Black's gaunt face broke into the first true smile Harry had seen upon it.  The difference it made was startling, as though a person ten years younger were shining through the starved mask; for a moment, he was recognizable as the man who had laughed at Harry's parents' wedding (p. 379).  (That's basically my favorite paragraph in the whole series.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some rude humor, mild bad language, peril to children, discussion of executions, and the very scary Dementors.