Monday, January 26, 2015

Guest Post about Anne Elliot from "Persuasion"

I've written a character sketch of Anne Elliot, my favorite Austen heroine, for Heidi's Persuasion read-along.  You can read it here.

Thanks for letting me write this post, Heidi!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"A Jane Austen Education" by William Deresiewicz

I.  Loved.  This.  Book.

Seriously, friends.  This is the most readable, most thought-provoking exploration of Austen's books I have read.  It's part literary analysis and part memoir, with the two intertwined so closely they form a cohesive whole.  The author shows how his reading of Austen's books influenced how he interacted with people and lived his life, and how what happened in his life influenced how he read and understood Austen's books.

While reading about his life was interesting to me, simply because I like learning about people and their lives, what I really loved were his observations about Austen's books and how they apply to life today.  And by "loved" I mean, "underlined more than 40 passages in a 250-page book."  I'll be sharing a LOT of them at the end of this post :-)  But not all, I promise.

Deresiewicz appreciates many of the same things about Austen's books as I do, and views them very like I do, so it's not surprising I liked what he had to say.  He likes her wit, her sharp observations of human nature, and her skillful characterizations.  And, like me, he doesn't view her books as "romantic."  In fact, he had a lot to say about Austen's views on love and romance, and how unconventional they really are, both in her time and ours.  He takes each novel in turn and discusses it, both analyzing it and showing how lessons he learned from it changed his own life.  He began reading Austen's novels while in graduate school, working on his doctorate.  He went from thinking they would be ridiculous, fluffy romances to writing part of his doctoral dissertation about them.  And he went from being a shallow and self-absorbed hipster to a person who was not only capable of loving another person, but knew how to be a good friend too.

The only thing I disliked about this book was that Deresiewicz does talk about his love life more than I'd prefer, and he does discuss sexuality in the Austen books, so I can't recommend this wholeheartedly to everyone in the universe.  However, he doesn't go into juicy details or get all salaciously descriptive, so I myself wasn't uncomfortable with the book.  Not appropriate for younger readers, though.

Particularly Good Bits:

Austen, I realized, had not been writing about everyday things because she couldn't think of anything else to talk about.  She had been writing about them because she wanted to show how important they really are (p. 12).

She understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts, and what fills our hearts should fill our novels (p. 27).

For [Austen], growing up has nothing to do with knowledge or skills, because it has everything to do with character and conduct (p. 51).

I could grow up and find happiness, Austen was letting me know, but only if I was willing to give up something very important.  Not my feelings, but my belief in my feelings, my conviction that they were always right (p. 65).

Needless to say, not everybody wants to hear that their feelings aren't necessarily valid.  In fact, a lot of people hate Jane Austen for just that reason.  They see her as cold and prudish, a schoolmarm and killjoy (p. 70).

Playful, impish, provoking:  this was Austen exactly, and never more so than in Northanger Abbey.  Austen used the novel to make us her students.  Henry was her surrogate, and Catherine was ours, and she went about teaching just the way that he did.  In fact, she taught, in part, through him (p. 92).

Feelings are also the primary way we know about novels -- which, after all, are training grounds for responding to the world, imaginative sanctuaries in which to hone and test our ethical judgments and choices (p. 99).

Learning to read... means learning to live.  Keeping your eyes open when you're looking at a book is just a way of teaching yourself to keep them open all the time (p. 103).

Austen was not a novelist for nothing:  she knew that our stories are what make us human, and that listening to someone else's stories -- entering into their feelings, validating their experiences -- is the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness (p. 161).

Lady Russell, whether she recognized it or not, was trying to protect her own dignity, not her friend's  She was the person she was trying to save from being connected with someone as lowly as a naval officer (p. 190).

For [Austen], being happy means becoming a better person, and becoming a better person means having your mistakes pointed out to you in a way that you can't ignore.  Yes, the true friend wants you to be happy, but being happy and feeling good about yourself are not the same things (p. 194).

For [Austen], I saw, love is not something that happens to you, suddenly or otherwise; it's something you have to prepare yourself for (p. 220).

Austen was not against romance, she was against romantic mythology (p. 227).

Her heroines weren't passive, weren't piteous, weren't victims, weren't playthings.  They controlled their destinies; they stood as equals (p. 232).

For her heroes and heroines, sexual attraction was always the last thing, never the first.  It didn't create affection, it flowed from it (p. 233).

Austen's lovers challenged each other:  to be less selfish, more aware, kinder, more considerate -- not only toward each other but to everyone around them (p. 235).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for reference to sexual activity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"The Victory Club" by Robin Lee Hatcher

Well, this was a pleasant book.  Four women who work together at an Army Air Force base during WWII share their problems, their fears, their faith.  And not all four of them get a happy ending, which was kind of surprising and refreshing.  I thought I knew how everything would turn out,and I was not entirely correct.  I like that!

Margo is a divorced mother with two grown children.  Her son is at war, and her daughter Dottie works at the base too.  Margo is bitter about her life, convinced the only way to succeed in life or in faith is to obey all the rules, or else

Dottie is pregnant.  And unmarried.  She and her fiance gave in to temptation one time, repented of it, but now she must live with the consequences while he's off fighting the war.  

Lucy got married the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Her husband promptly enlisted, and they have been apart for two years.  She's lonely and unhappy, and becomes friends with a man, then finds herself tempted to change the nature of their relationship.

Penny's husband is disabled, and she works to support him and their two young children.  She feels trapped by her life, resents her husband, and yearns to be anywhere else, to be anyone else.  

The four of them form The Victory Club, a way to encourage each other in their faith and their daily lives, as well as to help those who are less fortunate than themselves.  Over the course of the book, they all change, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad.  Like I said, they don't all get a happy ending.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for non-explicit discussions of sexual situations.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mailbox Monday Again

I'm linking up with Mailbox Monday again!  This week, I received a delightful surprise in the mail, a gift from my husband that he happened to see on Amazon and knew I would love:

Yes.  Brick Shakespeare.  As in, four of Shakespeare's tragedies told somewhat like a comic book, with little Lego people acting out the scenes and actual Shakespeare dialog for each panel.  It doesn't use the full texts, but it does a really great job of retelling these stories.  I haven't read the whole thing yet, just the first few acts of Hamlet (enough to see that this is not a retelling suitable for kids, so alas, my Lego-loving Sam can't read this yet).

Here's detail from one page that I thought I'd share so you could get an idea of the book's flavor:

What was in your mailbox this week?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Sign of Three Winners

Congratulations to Ashley, Janet Aldrich, and Elizabeth Anne D., who have won the giveaway!  Elizabeth Anne D. won In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, Janet won The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Ashley won The Essential Mysteries in One Sitting.  Winners, please check your email for a message from me asking for your mailing address so I can send you your prizes.

My thanks to everyone who participated in this blog party!  I had a lot of fun, and I hope you did too. 

If anybody still wants to do the tag and didn't have a chance, they are more than welcome to :-)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mailbox Monday: A Link-Up

I've seen this meme/link-up/thing on other blogs several times, and today I realized that I could actually participate because I got books in my mailbox last week!  So I'm linking up with Mailbox Monday for the first time.

First is a copy of The Christian Imagination:  The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing, edited by Leland Ryken.  This was a tardy Christmas gift that finally arrived, and it had perfect timing because I was having a supremely crummy day, and finding it in the mailbox was a burst of sunshine.  I flipped through and read two little essays right away because I simply had to -- the one by J. R. R. Tolkien was so splendid I gobbled up the next one before I could stop myself.  This is an anthology of essays and other writing selections by a wide range of authors, like C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle, T.S. Eliot, and many others.

And I also got Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy by Jean Webster in one combo volume.  You may remember I loved Daddy-Long-Legs when I read it for the first time not long ago.  So much I ordered my own copy :-)  The sequel is high on my list of things to read this year!

AND I got The Adventures of Robin Hood by Paul Creswick because Heidi ~ Lady of Anorien recommended it and I needed a good new retelling to wash Outlaw out of my hair, and also a used copy was only $4 including S&H.  Sometimes I love Amazon too much.

I've been scrolling through the Mailbox Monday blog a bit, and it's a fun read, so I suggest you check it out yourself :-)  Have you gotten any books in your mailbox lately?  And have you read any of these?
Don't forget to enter my Sherlock Holmes giveaway here!  It ends at midnight tonight.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"The Cowgirl's Cookbook" by Jill Charlotte Stanford

My best friend gave me this last fall, and I have finally finished reading it!  Yes, I read cookbooks.  Ones like this, anyway :-)  It's full of fun photographs of real cowgirls from days gone by as well as today, and every recipe has a little anecdote about its origin and uses.  There are also quotes from real-life cowgirls, including famous ones like Dale Evans and Calamity Jane.

Many of the recipes are hearty and what I think of as old-fashioned, with simple ingredients and uncomplicated prep.  I've earmarked these ones to try:

Annie Oatley Bread
Chuckwagon Doughnuts
Saddlebag Crackers
Cackleberries on Toast
Rio Brazos Salad
Leather Cookies (supposedly they look like leather, not taste like it)
Mustang Chocolate Cake
Rose Petal Jelly
Kathy's Orange-Cranberry Cake

That gives you an idea of the wide range of recipes in this collection :-)  Some explain how to make them while camping, and there are even instructions for making a cardboard oven for using in the great outdoors!  Something I'm tempted to try just for fun this summer, hee.

I kind of collect cookbooks that involve something I'm into, so this book goes on the shelf beside True Grits (all recipes inspired by the titles of John Wayne movies) and my All-American Cowboy Cookbook (all recipes donated by the stars of western movies and TV shows).

Saturday, January 10, 2015

"Outlaw" by Angus Donald

Well, nuts.  I'm really disappointed by this book.  It started out promisingly, with interesting characters, great historical detail, and some original takes on various characters from the Robin Hood legend.  It begins with Alan Dale joining Robin Hood's band as a young teen, and at first I thought it was going to be a YA book.  But things got adult pretty quickly.  And the truth is, I will read a book with bad language in it, and I'll read a book with violence in it.  I will even read books where characters have sex, as long as the sex isn't described in explicit, salacious detail. Sadly, this was too explicit for me to read in good conscience.  I skimmed through the first objectionable scene and kept reading, hoping that would be the end of such stuff, but eventually I realized it wasn't, so I had to stop.

And I'm so disappointed that the author chose to include all that smut, because I was very invested in the characters and intrigued by the plot, and now I'll never get to find out how Donald resolved everything.  Boo.

The good news is, I don't have this taking up space on my shelves anymore!  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R.  Explicit sex, very bad language, torture, violence, and pagan rituals.  I absolutely do not recommend this book.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Birthday Blog Party for Sherlock Holmes!

The party is afoot!  I'm so glad you could join me in celebrating one of my favorite characters of all time.  Just a couple of instructions on how this works, so settle into your armchair with your pipe or cup of tea or brandy or whatever you're celebrating with.  Then, copy The Good Old Index of Questions onto your blog (or put them in a note set to "Public" in Facebook if you don't blog) and answer them there -- and please include a link back here somewhere in your post!  Then come back here and add a link to your post to the link-up widget.  And then enter the giveaway!  How absurdly simple, right?

EDIT:  There is no time limit on this party!  The giveaway ends Jan 13, but you can join the party and link-up any time.

Feel free to add one of these images to your post, or the one I used above.

The Good Old Index of Questions

1.  When and how did you first encounter Sherlock Holmes?

2.  Please share a fact or two about yourself related to Holmes.  (You've read the whole canon, you've been to Baker Street, you're an official BSI member, etc.)

3.  What are three of your favorite Holmes adventures?

4.  What draws you to the Sherlock Holmes stories?

5.  If you were going to give Sherlock Holmes a birthday present, what would it be?

6.  If you could climb into a Holmes story and replace any one character for a day, who would you like to be?

7.  Please share some of your favorite Holmes-related quotes!

The Link-Up

The Giveaway

I am giving away three brand-new books!

  • In the Company of Sherlock Holmes:  Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger.  This is a hardcover copy of the book, which was published just before Christmas, and contains stories by authors like Cornelia Funke, Jeffery Deaver, Michael Connelly, and Harlan Ellison.  I have not finished reading my own copy, so I can't tell you what the content level is, but you can read here what I thought of its predecessor, A Study in Sherlock.  Please note that these are inspired by the canon, so while some stories include the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, some are about characters who have been influenced by the canon stories and so on.

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Paperback, with an afterword by Anne Perry.

  • Sherlock Holmes:  The Essential Mysteries in One Sitting by Jennifer Kasius.  This is a tiny hardcover book with recaps of twelve famous canon stories and illustrations, including many by Sidney Paget.  It also has little essays on "The Life of Sherlock Holmes" and "Essential Characters in the World of Sherlock Holmes."  Great fun for new and long-time fans of Holmes alike!

This giveaway is open world-wide.  I will choose the winners one week from today, which is Tuesday, January 13, 2015.  I will then email the winners at the address provided to the widget, and they will have one week to reply with their mailing address.  If a winner does not reply by Tuesday, January 20th, I will disqualify them and pick a new winner.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widgets includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get my email informing you that you won!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing" edited by Larry W. Phillips

This is a collection of things that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote or said about writing, whether it was in personal letters or in fiction.  They're organized into sections like "What a Writer Is," "Craft and Where It Comes From," and "Characters."  And it is chock full of beautiful insights and advice.  

I have a similar book called Ernest Hemingway on Writing from the same editor of writing quotes from Ernest Hemingway that I got maybe five or six years ago and also love.  When I read about this one on someone's blog (I thought it was Classics and Beyond, but I can't find the post now -- maybe Emily just mentioned it in a comments discussion?), I knew I wanted to read it.  And yet it took me a couple of years to get a copy and read it.  I've been savoring it for a couple of weeks, reading a section at a time and pondering the advice there.

Because I am a writer, I found this book invaluable, just as I did the Hemingway collection.  I want to make a poster or something with the best advice from both.  Maybe a desktop background for my laptop?  Fitzgerald and Hemingway both spent a great deal of time learning and refining their art, studying writing and pondering it, and they both imparted their acquired wisdom so helpfully :-)

Particularly Good Bits:

"That is part of the beauty of all literature.  You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong" (p. 10).

"Good stories write themselves -- bad ones have to be written..." (p. 33).

"The history of my life is the history of the struggle between an overwhelming urge to write and a combination of circumstances bent on keeping me from it (p. 107).