Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What authors are you thankful for?


Happy Turkey day, readers. If you drop by over the long weekend, let us know which authors or characters you're thankful for having in your life.

Right now I'm thankful (in a purely secular, literature-is-my-religion kinda way, o' courrse) for Mrs. Gaskell, Charlaine Harris, and L.M Mongtomery's existence, and for all the Y.A. heroines like Anne, Emily, Jo and Meg Murray with whom I grew up.


Your turn.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Today in Jane

More of the usual musings on Jane's enduring popularity from the New Yorker's Book Bench blog. It includes a great EM Forster quote, which I am reprinting in full here:

E.M. Forster "I am a Jane Austenite, and therefore slightly imbecile about Jane Austen. My fatuous expression, and airs of personal immunity-how ill they sit on the face, say,of a Stevensonian! But Jane Austen is so different. She is my favourite author! I read and reread, the mouth open and the mind closed. Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers."

Gaskell-Mania redux

Elizabeth Gaskell remains all the rage. Charleybrown at Enchanted Serenity is celebrating the 5th year anniversary of the period drama adaptation that blew our collective socks off: North and South. And over a their place they've also got all the updates on the new Cranford, which will be hitting our screens right as 2010 starts. Can I get a hell-yeah for adorable spinsters and widows?

In honor of the Gaskelly season, I've just started making my slow way through Wives and Daughters. Loving it so far. Can't wait to watch the mini-series with my grandma when I'm done.

You can crush my strike any time, Mr. Thornton!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fifteen Awesome Books By Women written in 09

(That's me clutching Elaine Showalter and Charlaine Harris)

A little late, but better than never.

Women writers all over the web are responding to our lack of presence on mainstreams awards lists and "best of" lists with lists of our own--(note to world: I got there first re the PW list).

So in that positive spirit, here goes--awesome books I read that were written by women in 2009, both high and lowbrow. What's on yours?


A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx
Elaine Showalter

The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World
Michelle Goldberg

The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women
Jessica Valenti

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement
Kathryn Joyce

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Gail Collins

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading
Lizzie Skurnick


The Broken Teaglass: A Novel
Emily Arsenault

Day After Night: A Novel
Anita Diamant

Picking Bones from Ash: A Novel
Marie Mockett

Shanghai Girls: A Novel
Lisa See

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 9)
Charlaine Harris

Living Room: A Novel
Rachel Sherman

A Short History of Women: A Novel
Kate Walbert

Pictures at an Exhibition
Sara Houghteling

Hello Goodbye: A Novel
Emily Chenoweth

Literary Linkage GALORE

There's so much Twilight-mania it seems absurd to try to collect it in one place. Here are a few of my favorite recent literary links though.

Jacket Copy gives us a rundown on the National Book Awards.

Meanwhile mediabistro asks folks at the National Book Awards about sparkly vampires.

Comparing Twilight to Samuel Richardson's Pamela at The Millions

Romancing the Tome takes on a new book of Jane Austen essays.

DoubleX blog finds out where writers do their best writing, from the dark to the bathroom.

I was quoted as a guilty feminist Twilight-lover at the Washington Post.

The ladies of Jane Austen today have an awesome quiz linking the actors from S+S '95 to Harry Potter.

The Times o'London lists the best 100 books of the decade. An odd assortment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Today in Jane: WWJD?

James Collins in the Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece (excerpted from a new book of essays on Jane) on Austen's morality in terms of its applicability today, when so many social rules and values are different than they were in her time.

Unlike today's social observers, Austen never advocated rearranging or even challenging the structure of society; she mocked the status quo, but was a big believer in protecting oneself and skillfully, practically navigating within a system that could be downright unfair to women and classist, to boot. Feminists like me may not like to admit it, but today Jane very well might be one of those pragmatic folks who urged her fellow women not to wear short skirts or go out clubbing on their own. So is she still an acceptable moral guide in our liberated world?

Collins' piece gets the most interesting partway down, when he talks about three of the more troubling (by today's standards) "moral" choices made by Austen heroines Fanny, Elinor and Anne:

If one is to argue that Austen's morality is useful for a person living today, one must deal with three hard cases. First, there is Fanny's objection to the amateur theatricals in "Mansfield Park." Then, in "Sense and Sensibility" there is Elinor's refusal to pursue the man she loves, Edward Ferrars, when she learns that he is oficially engaged to Lucy Steele, a woman who "joined insincerity with ignorance." Finally, there is Anne Elliot's avowal in "Persuasion" that she did the right thing by following the dictates of Lady Russell to refuse Captain Wentworth, even though this led to years of loveless misery for them both. In all three cases, Austen endorses a morality that seems nearly absurd in its strictness. What is the big deal with theatricals? Is the principle of honor worth upholding when it results in mismatches and regret? And what kind of value system puts obedience before love?
To find out how Collins makes sense of these tricky situations, read the piece.

I'd venture to add that Austen's descriptions of her characters' feelings provide a very human counterweight to the ultimate moral message she delivers--she doesn't pretend it's easy to do the right thing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sookie Stackhouse, the Final Five

So this is a review of books 5-9 plus the story collection "A Touch of Dead". What can I say, readers? These books were literary crack... as I said last time the series definitely gained momentum after the third book and pretty much kept going. Although I found some of the books, particularly the ones that took us away from Bon Temps, less well-done than others, I zipped through them all in record speed. Charlaine Harris has won her loyal readers over by creating an awesome cast of characters with reliable quirks and traits that almost read like Homeric epithets--Pam in her cream-colored sweaters, Eric's 2,000 years of experience in the ways of love, Claudine's outragious physique, etc. etc. Harris also fearlessly expresses her love of genre fiction by mixing three traditions together with impunity; romance, fantasy, mystery, with a touch of humor, and it's a bewitching concoction.

Unlike purveyor of even stronger crack/object of EBC scorn Stephanie Meyer, Harris has the guts to kill major players off, have characters change and evolve, and give them sex drives that actually lead somewhere beyond pouty looks and abortive makeout sessions. Essentially, her characters' actions result in consequences, as opposed to their heroine protecting everyone she thinks is speshul with a bogus "wuv shield" (yep, I'm still bitter about Breaking Dawn). This makes the pleasure of reading the books even less guilty.

Honestly, I can't wait for Dead in the Family.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice/Veteran's Day Poem: Dulce et Decorum Est

So when I was a kid, my mom bought us a book of war and peace poems and read them with us. That's where I first encountered famous poems like "Abhu Ben Adam" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and "In Flanders Field" (that's what being brought up by Jewish intellectuals is like, folks). It also had the below poem which has always haunted me, as I'm sure it has to most everyone who reads it.

On a day like today it's hard to pick just one anti-war poem, since there are so many devastating ones. But if one must (and one must), Wilfred Owen is the clear choice.

What are your favorite poems or books that describe war and its consequences, readers?

Wilfred Owen

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mad Men: Reflecting on the end of the season

I know a lot of you like me have been glued to the couch on Sunday nights watching "Mad Men." It's been an incredible season--dark and portentous with a few rays of hilarity and hope. I thought last's nights finale was a pitch-perfect hour of TV and I've avoided my usual Monday-Morning indulgence of reading "Mad Men" open threads so I could jot down my thoughts and ask you yours.

(my how they've grown since season 1)

I thought the episode was marked by Don and Betty's inverted efforts to build a new life for themselves. Don's new venture looks like a repeat, but is in fact an uncharted course; Betty's plans look new but it's going to trap her in the same prison she was in before.

Don's new company has the same DNA as the old one: the same core people he's been working and fighting with forever with a name that starts out the same as well--but the reality is very, very different. He's abased himself in front of everyone: Sterling, Peggy, Pete, and has to acknowledge them as equals. Now he's played his cards of telling these colleagues exactly why he admires them-- and needs them--rather than keeping his little "does Don like me?" guessing-game power-trip game going. This awareness and openness is clearly spurred on by what was happening at home, *and as people on the internets reminded me, his memory of the grisly fate that befell his dad when he "abandoned the collective." So Don succeeded with Peggy and Roger where he failed with Betty. And as Peggy's retort to Roger about the coffee shows, Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce is going to be a very different place from the original SC.

Meanwhile Betty, who is rightly furious at her secretive womanizer of a husband, thinks she's found her fairytale prince and her ticket to happiness and freedom. But with a protective, overly-chivalrous guy who wants to do exactly what Don did--put her on a pedestal and provide for her--she may be doomed to a repeat performance. What Betty needs is not another father figure, but the ability to let go of that little-girl persona and grow up.

As broken-hearted as I was by Betty's decision, and especially its effect on the kids, I also felt a flood of relief that this tense standoff between the two of them was over. And I felt poignantly the tragedy of an era, and two people, who wouldn't allow, wouldn't even consider, of Don's warm and natural parenting instincts to ever influence or take precedence over Betty's horrible childishness at home.

So what did you think? And what are your hopes/predictions for next season?

Friday, November 06, 2009

This Week In Jane

Yes, the blogs are abuzz with news of the Jane Austen exhibit opening at the Morgan... it's a writerly exhibit of manuscripts and letters, so no Colin Firth paraphernalia to be found, just raw genius. I will be going to this and reporting on it forthwith, dear readers.

The Pride and Prejudice graphic novel we've talked about before is shooting up the bestseller charts.

You know, every single time I go to the bookstore I see more Jane-related titles. At what point will news reporters realize that Jane-ism isn't just a fad?

Question of the NaNoWriMo Weekend: What are you writing?

I'm not furiously writing a new novel this month--still revising the old one (yet again) and trying to come up with a new batch of freelance journalism pitches to take me through the holidays.

But what about you guys? I know I have some NaNoWriMoers in the audience, and I know that a lot of you are also working on personal writing projects, whether it's journals, blogs, theses, poetry or fiction. So here's your chance to tell us how your scribbling is going.

Good luck!

PS for those who haven't, I recommend joining the new social network for female writers, And be my friend!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Why Do Writers Get Compared Only to Writers of the Same Ethnicity?

A really funny--and also true-- post at HuffPo from Celeste Ng about the way every single writer of East Asian descent seems to be compared to Amy Tan in blurbs, back-cover copy, promotion and even book reviews. And it's not because of their approach to prose. The same goes for writers of other backgrounds:
Check any bookshelf of contemporary fiction and you'll see what I mean. Black writers get compared to black writers; Jewish writers to Jewish writers; gay writers to gay writers. According to the publisher's description, my friend Preeta Samarasan's novel Evening Is the Whole Day is "sure to earn her a place alongside Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Zadie Smith." I teased her: a place on the shelf of Brown Women Writers. As someone of Indian descent, Samarasan can apparently hope to become a Bharati Mukherjee or a Jhumpa Lahiri, but not -- say -- a Toni Morrison or an A. S. Byatt. Or an Amy Tan, for that matter.

Well worth a read. I've always found it funny that this is done, because a lot of the writers who get compared to each other have little in common in terms of style and tone, even if their subject matter overlaps: Gish Jen, Sam Chang and Amy Tan are all EXTREMELY different, as are Kiran Desai and Jhumpa Lahiri.

55 Years of Pouring Water Down the Mail Chute

"I am a city child. I live at the Plaza."

Happy 55th birthday to Eloise, the most mischievous scion of wealth who ever grew up in NYC's Plaza hotel, and star of one of my absolute favorite childhood books. I can still hear my mom chuckling over the phrase "city child" as she read it aloud; indeed, prank-loving Eloise is a quintessential fictional New Yorker.

The Daily Beast has an interview with Hilary Knight, the book's illustrator.

And Knight will be giving lessons on how to draw the iconic character in NYC!