Dear Readers,

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snowpocalypse De-Lurk--What Are You Reading?

Dearest readers. It's been a wild week and the wildness should continue for a while. I've been doing various betrothal-related errands, I caught Cathleen Schine's reading at Barnes and Noble, I had to finish all my work by Weds because I was due to serve a deadly boring period of voir-dire free jury duty (which I did, and it gave me a migraine), I attended a loud, late, fun pop concert which may have contributed to said migraine, I stressed out about the figure skaters and skiiers each night (seriously, the Olympics are not good for blood pressure), and although I happily got another MFA acceptance, I know that after the acceptances (and then the silences that equal rejection) comes my decision and so that very slight, but persistent pressure is mounting. Oh, and we've been hit with the most insane snowstorm yet! I was hoping for a weekend of skiing to purify my soul and perfect my technique, but it looks like conditions are keeping us stranded in the city.

Still, these manic periods in la vie moderne have a fun quality to them--they're exciting, they make you feel alive. So much is happening, you sort of have to surrender control. And I've been reading wonderfully inspiring literature throughout it all. I read a great review book for PW that is very EBC-ish and am now making my slow, tear-stained way through Jhumpa Lahiri's first published book, her Pulitzer winning collection of stories Interpreter of Maladies.

If there's one contemporary writer I want to be like, it's definitely she. Some day in the distant future, after my MFA program and the cruel realities of adult life have honed my blunt, youthful pen to a fine-tipped edge, I'd like to see myself as a Jewish Lahiri with a tiny bit of a satirical touch.

I love her writing because its brilliance lies in directness and honest rather than rhetorical flourish. Her style is so unobtrusive that 'we're launched right into the worlds of her character and often forget the conceit. She isn't afraid to "tell" us what her characters are feeling as well as showing us. She valiantly confronts the awful things in life like death and infidelity and bitter disappointment, but she does it lovingly, not cruelly. I just can't rave about her enough.

So what are you reading beneath these sleety, snowy drifts of weather and of life? Come check in with your harried blogstress and share.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ciaran Hinds, AKA Captain Wentworth, is Aberforth Dumbledore the next Harry Potter film. It's a great role for a great actor. Here is a great little interview with him. Love his Irish accent.
He also talks about some other projects, but the HP stuff is first.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Brave New World

Brave New World Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this great dystopian book in my attempt to tick off great 20th century novels one by one. The conceptual aspect of the world Huxley envisions is imaginative, fascinating, and occasionally brilliant--government which controls its subjects through genetic engineering aided by pleasure, oblivion and ecstasy. Rather than pain and repression keeping people down, conformity, free love, and constant engagement of the senses are the weapons wielded by the powers that be.

Huxley's modern writing style, jumping around from one place and person to another at a lightning-quick pace, is fun to read and the book went by breezily and with a good deal of excitement.

But I just wasn't convinced by Huxley's characters, who were all rather detached and unpleasant (as opposed to the MCs in "1984" whom one just loves and identify with so much) nor did I buy his rather prudish concerns with the fate of humanity. Yes, it's true that we like to distract ourselves from life with drugs and sex, but no, the "everybody has everybody" philosophy his society espouses, and the breaking down of clans, friendships and family units such a philosophy entails, would never go over so easily with any populace, no matter when or where. We are too clinging, too imperfect.

I think Lois Lowry's YA masterpiece"The Giver" is a much, much better stab at the same concept--a world regulated without pain or loss, but without love also.

View all my reviews >>

Rules for Writing:

The Guardian gives us a series of lists, all of "rules" for writers elicited from famous authors, each of whom has listed 8 or 10 cardinal principles they write by, both mundane and profound, serious and amusing. Among the gems:

  • Margaret Atwood says: Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
  • Zadie Smith says: try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  • Hillary Mantel says: Be aware that anything that appears before "Chapter One" may be skipped. Don't put your vital clue there.

UPDATE: The New Yorker's Book Bench skims the list and comes up with some more great rules.

UPDATE 2: An attentive EBC reader who may or may not be sitting five feet from me asked me what MY rules for writing are. I'm still figuring them out, to be honest, which is a big and exciting and daunting part of the journey I'm on right now. But one of them may be "read other writers' rules for writing" ;)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Re-Liveblogging "Persuasion" '07

This is what I blogged when this inferior adaptation of the most inspiring of Austen's works aired in 2008. Enjoy, if you're watching or live-tweeting tonight!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Woman's Wit

I finally made it to the Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library today with Simon and our friend Zach, and am so glad I did.

It was a lovely and definitive collection of Jane's lively witty letters written in a tiny hand to save paper, and a full original draft of Lady Susan, plus tons of goodies, like original manuscripts of writing by Walter Scott, Nabokov and Yeats discussing Austen's works, as well as old editions of her books and illustrations. The exhibit ended with a video that showed a number of writers, thinkers, and artists visiting the exhibit and interacting with Austen's letters and legacy. Cornel West called Austen a "Shakespearean novelist" and said he'd like to give her a hug, because without her there would be no Flaubert, Dickens or Tolstoy, while Siri Hustvedt explained that Austen transcends "comedy of manners" to write about the relationships between ourselves, our perceptions, and others. Fran Lebowitz said that Austen hasn't aged or dated because her observations are true.
Zach took this shot of a Frances Burney subscription list,
the only time Austen ever saw her own name in print.

Simon and I were nodding like true devotees throughout the whole thing, and there was something rather moving about all the visitors filtering through the smallish room. I heard so many animated conversations about Austen and her characters, people explaining to their friends and family why she was so awesome. I've never done any JASNA events, so it was a nice feeling of kinship with my fellow Janeites.

It any of you are in the NY area before mid-march, check it out!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Question of the Week: Favorite Old Timey Romance-Movies?

Greetings, readers. Exciting news! You can now follow this blog using your twitter or facebook or AIM account. No google account required.

Thanks to TCM's pre-Oscar classics fest--31 Days of Oscar-- I've finally caught two movies I've long wanted to see: The Philadelphia Story and Roman Holiday. Both marvelous, funny, sad and romantic, needless to say, with great star turns by Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart in the first and Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the second.

It got me thinking--you're a crowd with good taste in these sorts of things. So what are your favorite old-Hollywood romances?

Literary Birthday: Toni Morrison

One of the best writers living, Morrison's work combines poetry with prose, historical testimony with the supernatural, the specifics of the African-American experience with the universality of the human experience. She's a chronicler of the most brutal of crimes and a believer in love.

I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither.... So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger. -Toni Morrison

I've read a lot of her work, but still haven't read Jazz, Tar Baby, Love or Paradise. Must rectify that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Falling softly, softly falling

Cp, snow on Twitpic

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.

Another snowy day on the East Coast. I've been working on novel edits all day and my eyes are getting all bleary, so time to venture out into the whirling white flakes and try to stumble to the gym and grocery stores before it gets too dark.

My favorite literary snowfalls are the obvious ones: Robert Frost and James Joyce. There's a wonderful snowy night in "Emma" in which our characters dine at the Westons and poor Mr. Elton is rejected in the carriage home. And there are dozens more. "The Giver" "To Light a Fire" "Sarah Plain and Tall"...

What, to you, are the most memorable snow scenes in literature?

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Re-Liveblogging Northanger Abbey

This is what I blogged when it originally aired in '08. enjoy!

Happy Valentine's Day

To my readers who love smouldering 19th-century heroes.

And romance in corsets and breeches:


Saturday, February 13, 2010

My revision process--in vlog form!

So here is my first vlog (yes, I'm imitating you, my numerous blogging buddies who have started vlogging in recent weeks/months), wherein I talk about the part of the writing process I'm now in--revisions. So with lots of awkward hair-fussing and eye-rolling, (and no script) I discuss handing out the manuscript to my Beta readers, copy edits, and my favorite part of the process--the adverb hunt! Whee. This is an experiment, so the transitions were abrupt and the whole thing went perhaps a bit too long, but it was soo fun to play with and the editing and filming process will be on its path to perfection the next time I try it.

Oh, and a special shout-out to Simon, whom I omitted in my list of beta readers because I'm a moron and forgot he's really an alpha reader, in that he's always the first person to look at every draft after me.

Sense and Sensibility in Connecticut

A Different Kind of Love Triangle, on the front page of the NTYBR this weekend, is a review of "The Three Weissmans of Westport" a loose take on "Sense and Sensibility,' transplanted to a very Jewy family in that WASPiest of states, Connecticut (hmm, sound like a familiar premise?):
"In Cathleen Schine’s novel, two sophisticated Manhattan sisters, one wildly emotional, one smartly sensible, come to the aid of their beloved aging mother."

Good on the Times for putting this front and center.

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Introducing... My WIP. My plans for next year.

As you guys may have noticed, I'm constantly muttering asides about writing conferences and wanting to be a writer. Well as I mentioned a few weeks back, part of my New Year's resolution has been to own my identity as an aspiring novelist more fully, so here come a few announcements for those who care to hear them :)

1-I am writing a novel. It's called "French Lessons" and it's a loose modern re-working of "Persuasion," set in France during the Bush years with a put-together on the outside, confused on the inside young woman as its protagonist. Over the course of a summer backpacking throughout her adopted country with a band of merry expats, Annie has to face some truths about her love life, her future, and the reasons she's left home so far behind. Oh and her two love interests are a roguish French intellectual and an earnest American blogger ;)

2-I am enrolling in an MFA program next year. Right now, it looks very strongly like I'll be attending the well-regarded, and bucolically-situated low-res MFA at VCFA, because it's a top choice of mine and they accepted me! (YAY). What that means is I'll be around as usual and continuing to freelance, but also corresponding with my faculty mentor throughout each semester and attending two intense residencies each year in Montpelier, VT, (right near my favorite ski mountain, Stowe and home to the New England Culinary Institute. Uh-huh).

3-I'm currently in the middle of an umpteenth round of revisions on the aforementioned novel, and I'm hopefully going to describe that process in either a video blog or a post coming up.

And that's all for now. Time to geek out watching the Olympics, the sporting event for nerds.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

True Love, Jane (Austen and Campion) Style

True Love, Jane (Austen and Campion) Style, my piece at my home base, RH Reality Check, is up for our V-day story package celebrating love. I'm always searching for ways to combine radical feminism with a love of 19th century Brit Lit. Sigh. I think I did a better job with "Bright Star" than with "Emma," perhaps because the latter is so close to my heart right now and I'm still thinking about it in a frenzy, night and day. The intro is below:

In recent months, my favorite romantic works of art, "Emma" on TV and "Bright Star" in theaters, both featured well-mannered Regency Brits in old-fashioned romances. Cultural critics love saying that women viewers' proclivity for costume drama represents a backlash against sexual liberation, a longing for a return to decorum and being treated like property. But to me, it's the opposite. Both film's visions of love achieve the goal of being enrapturing and romantic while subtly critiquing conventional conceptions of love.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

#Emma_PBS. Did You Loooove It By the End?

Dear readers, it's long over, and this is a much-belated post. But did the conclusion charm you as much as it charmed me? Were you humiliated and uncomfortable on Box Hill or did you wish Knightley had said "badly done, Emma," a little less yelling-ly? Were you totally enamored of the romantic conclusion, or did you miss seeing the scene in which Knightley and Emma sit together and read Frank Churchill's letter (so perfect, and kind of perfectly snarky for our internet age)? Were you deliriously happy that Emma got to see the sea at long last or did you worry along with Professor Dumbledore/Squire Hamley on downers Mr. Woodhouse? And did you agree with my mother when she emailed me with the following words of wisdom:

Thought Emma was FABULOUS... You could really feel the love between her and Knightley!!!!

I had my quibbles, but the whole thing won me over utterly. So much so that Simon and I bought the DVD, in fact, as a mutual Valentine's Day gift. Yay!

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Quick Link: Brontë in Hollywood

Over at Brontë-blog, a roundup of news about new Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights projects coming to the big screen sometime in the near-ish future. It includes some casting info you're not going to want to miss. Perfect timing, because I was just thinking about how we've been neglecting EBC heroines the Brontës a bit in favor of other EBC heroines Austen and Gaskell.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Which Austen hero, err, Literary Character Is Your Valentine?

What literary character have you fallen in love with?:
Kate Ward at EW's Shelf Life asks us to name "The characters in literature that we love.... Not just respect, or admire, but love." She begs the Edward Cullen adorers to keep from hijacking the thread (amen!) and who should show up on the first page of comments instead but a bunch of ferverent admirers of the one, the only, Captain Frederick "You pierce my soul" Wentworth. Nothing could please me more.

We've had this very same discussion here before, but why not throw the question out again? I for one am adding a new literary hero to my loong list of love-worthy fictional lads: Mr. George "my most beloved Emma" Knightley.

Who's on your list? And please, don't just go hetero here. This is a site for egalitarian bookworms, so feel free to declare your passion for any fictional character of any gender or persuasion below.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Literary Articles Roundup

Did you guys see...

* Jonathan Mahler's New York Times Magazine cover story from two weeks back on James Patterson's endless, bestselling, fiction output? I genuinely loved this story and recommend it to all of us who muse on popular fiction vs. literary fiction. Galleycat has a podcast with the story's author.

*Claire Messud explains why she curated an issue of Guernica devoted to women writers,
Not because they're women, but because they are writers whose work thrills and surprises me. And because, simply on account of their gender, they are too often overlooked by the silly popularity contests that are juries and boards and lists. This is not a question of the writers' quality but of our society's habits, and of a habitual--and primarily lazy--cultural expectation that male writers are somehow more serious, more literary, or more interesting."
(Claire Messud, you are cooler than I thought. Mea Culpa!)

*Dani Shapiro on how depressingly commercial you have to be to make it as a writer, how just practicing the craft for a select group of readers is not enough anymore. Depressing, but an interesting take for those of us she's writing about.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Literary Birthdays, Redux

Here's what I wrote last year on the occasion of Charles Dickens AND Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthdays.

What a great pair of authors, both of whom wrote long, epic and much-beloved tales filling many volumes, but who, in other ways, couldn't have been more different from each other as people and writers.

What are your favorite books by these two? I'd have to go with David Copperfield and Little Town on the Prairie (where Manny courts Laura--aww)

In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this book to keep up with a student I'm tutoring, and I was truly blown away. Telling the fictionalized stories of the real life martyred freedom fighters the Mirabal Sisters--who fought against the Dominican Republic's brutal dictator, Trujillo or El Jefe--it's an unputdownable portrait of the struggle to maintain one's soul and humanity under an absolute dictatorship. It's also about gender and sex and sisterhood and family and coming-of-age, and Alvarez weaves the disparate themes together seamlessly, giving each of the four sisters a distinct personality and perspective.
Alvarez's imagery and symbolism reach the level of mysticism, while her brutal description of life as a political prisoner is as earth-bound as any. She inhabits her characters deeply without judgment and writes of shoe-buying trips and grenade-smuggling with the same sincerity and detail.
"Butterflies" had all the wonderful insight and beautiful language of "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents" but so much more urgency and tension due to the political situation and the sense of impending doom.
I was honestly riveted and impressed from the first page to the last--this was the best and most surprising book I've read in a while.

See also, my review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

View all my reviews >>

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Question of the Week: What's Your Favorite Adultery Novel?

The book blogs are full of nothing but political adultery scandals, thanks to books by Andrew Young and Jenny Sanford about sordid politicians-cheating-on their wives. Sigh. Besides being just horribly, sickeningly ashamed of my own judgment as a former John Edwards booster, I'm kind of horrified yet intrigued bythe whole messy fuss (and I really enjoy watching "The Good Wife" on TV, but that's another story).

It has made me think, though, how much "great" literature centers around adultery. For novels about female protagonists up until quite recently, of course, marriages were symbolic prisons and adultery was the only means of escape-- usually an unsatisfying, even fatal means at that. In contemporary novels, adultery can symbolize the same kind of release from entrapment, but it's a prison of boredom and bougie expectations rather than of absolute social necessity.

At a few of of my all-time beloved novels are adultery novels (or their tantalizing counterparts, the novel of pseudo-really-wanna-almost-but-just-can't-go-through-with-it-adultery). The Scarlet Letter, and Anna Karenina are my favorites in the former category, The Age of Innocence and The Mill on the Floss in the latter.

And of course there's Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley and The Awakening and Updike and Irving and dozens more. So what are your favorite tales of marital bond-breaking, readers?

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Review Catch Up: Three books, real quick

I'm so behind on my book reviews, readers, that I though I'd make it less daunting for myself and catch up on all of em at once.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. The classic novel of mothers and daughters across the years and cultural divides. This wasn't the most traditional read, as I picked up the hardback over 3 or 4 sittings at my parents' house. Still, how to not enjoy this book? Splendid imagery of modern day California and China a half-century ago, intense mother-daughter relationships, secrets and rivalries and inter-generational conflict, and an author who can easily assume eight different voices and not lose us. I can see why this book changed modern literature and emboldened women writers and introduced themes to a contemporary audience that other writers chronicling the immigrant experience have returned to again and again.

Morality for Beautiful girls by Alexander McCall Smith. More No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency hi-jinx. In this installment, Mm. Makutsi investigates a crooked beauty contest, while Mma. Ramatsowe goes undercover in a politicians' family to find out who's been poisoning whom. Meanwhile J. B Maketoni, her fiance, is suffering from a strange disease called "depression" and the ladies have to take the fate of Speedy Motors in hand. Funny, wise, caring, typically gentle, no more and no less than I'd expect from Smith at this point.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I got turned onto this by a combination of the lovely Catherine and Barnes and Noble's noteworthy paperback table. It's a "grown-up" book by noted children's author Burnett who wrote faves like The Secret Garden and family fave A Little Princess. It's kind of a grown-up fairy tale about a good-natured, not particularly bright woman who is a very poor genteel sort, living in boarding rooms and getting paid by rich ladies to do social errands. A fairy-tale romance results in her being 'made" a marchioness, but then in the second half scheming jealous relatives threaten her newfound happiness. It was silly at times, and not all that profound, but written with a very light touch and a great sense of humor and character. The milieu was like Edith Wharton, but less cutting. A good palate-cleansing read and a very interesting novel for the light it sheds on Burnett's life and letters.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Another Year Older and Deeper in Debt

Hi readers! Instead of my any kind of passage of time reflective angsty birthday post, I'm just going to say that I'm 27 as of today, and very happy.

I have a lot of exciting stuff in the works this year, and even though I've been sick this past week I've been spending time with my beloved family, my twin brother, and my loyal betrothed one. My parents and Simon accidentally got me the same present -"Bright Star" on DVD, which I will cherish. They know me so well.

I'm unexpectedly without reading material. I have a few days to dawdle before I get my next review book, so I'm going to tackle something new and fun and unknown as of yet. Or I may just listen to my new ipod on my commute and zone out (thanks mom and dad!--yes I've been sans ipod for years).

What are you all reading during this dreariest of months?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Emma--Book and BBC

Emma Emma by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I re-read Emma for the third time alongside my soon to-be-cara sposo, Mr. VL, who is reading it for the first time. I have to say, now that I'm no longer a naive adolescent girl myself, I have even more appreciation for the way Austen captures the mindset of that particular epoch in one's development.

But this isn't a rapturous enough way to start--I'd always enjoyed the book, and admired its cleverness and wit, but this time I truly fell in love with it. It's as well-structured as Pride and Prejudice, with characters serving as symmetrical foils and doubles for each other, and it's a meditation on human folly, on our tendency to see others through the tinted glass of our own desires, proclivities and fears. Emma of course, is the worst example, guessing everything wrong down to her own heart's feelings, oblivious to everyone's real motives under the screen of the motives she would like them to have. But this tendency is true of every character, down to Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse, who assumes all others have the same need for gruel and blazing fires in the summertime as he does. Even Mr. Knightley, who supposedly has perfect judgment and composure, chooses interesting moments to scold Emma--often related to his own masked feelings for her. In Austen's world we're all stumbling around in the blindfolds of our own perspective, our own human imperfection. There's an undertone of melancholy here, too, lurking in the corners of this comédie humaine. I actually burst into tears during a certain climactic scene in which someone is told she has borne something as no woman in England could--(of course it was 2 a.m. and I had the flu, but the emotions were genuine.)

I think it's a first-rate work of genius. Sometimes, dear readers, I'm inclined to say that there are two categories of fiction: 1-fiction 2-Austen. Jane Austen does everything your writing teachers and editors say don't do: she uses the passive voice, lots of linking verbs, adverbs, and general adjectives like "handsome" and "elegant" and "tasteful" and almost no physical or tangible descriptions of anyone or anything. And yet her world comes more alive than most contemporary writers who describe things with metaphors like the full belly of her grief scraping across her soul. Not that there's anything wrong with imagery. It's just that Jane does it all with such a light touch. Sigh.

View all my reviews >>

Now, for my thoughts on the BBC production.It's definitely growing on me--as other have noted, this production improves a lot after the first smirk and eye-roll filled hour and a half. I like that it brings out those darker, lonelier, more cramped edges of Highbury life. I find Johnny Lee Miller's Mr. Knightley absolutely charmant, and Garai's manic mannerisms have calmed down a bit. I think she gets certain aspects of the character, almost the opposite elements from the Paltrow portrayal--but neither actress can combine the naivete with the goodwill with the headstrong wit with the vulnerability lurking beneath it all--except, I maintain, Alicia Silverstone :)

Needless to say, I cannot wait til the conclusion, and I may have to re-watch the ballroom scene which is lovely--again, conventional Janeite wisdom has already come to this consensus, but I will add my voice to the chorus.

What do you all think so far? Is the miniseries improving for you also?