Tag Archives: sisters

How I Decided to Give Hardy Another Try

“It was like Middlemarch with LESS JOY,” I found myself saying to my sister the other day. She had asked me about Thomas Hardy, who I was supposed to read in a Victorian Lit class I took.

You’ll notice the “supposed to read” there. I never actually finished the book that was assigned (Jude the Obscure). (I didn’t do very well in that class.)

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Penguin classic, cover illustration by Coralie Bickford-Smith / image via Goodreads

She was asking, not, as I thought, because of references to Hardy in another book the both of us had just read (Love, Nina — which was a delight and you should probably go read it immediately), but because there is a new adaptation of one of Hardy’s novels coming out as a movie: Far From the Madding Crowd. Notably not Jude the Obscure. There also hasn’t yet been a Penguin clothbound classic with a cover illustrated by Coralie Bickford-Smith for Jude the Obscure. If there were, the illustration could easily be teardrops (as emblematic of poor decisions) falling from clock faces. (Seriously, go check out the plot summary!)

Anyway — so my sister is currently reading Far From the Madding Crowd, which apparently is described by someone, somewhere as the “happy Hardy”. And this of the author about whom The Guardian has a guide-to-grimness infographic: Bleakness Is My Weakness! I thought to myself, why not?

I’ve also been in a period of wordlessness — blame the thousand extraneous circumstances conspiring to bring one down (bleakness is also my weakness?) — and sometimes what it takes for me to get out of that funk is a book that makes me think about the language, in the context of its usage (to understand as I read) but also on a larger scale, to lament its loss in phrases like “point of espial”.

So here we are. Far From the Madding Crowd. Time alone will tell if this will become my next Middlemarch. Happily, it’s not as long.

We All Need More Jane Austen In Our Lives

Although I may have given you plenty of reason to believe otherwise, I’m not a fan of the many, many spinoffs from Jane Austen’s novels. To me, generally speaking, the novels are perfect as they are, and I think we should just leave it there.

But, don’t you love the idea of making blackberry jam with blackberries picked on Box Hill, of Emma fame? LondonEats just did exactly that, and the photo of the view looks like it was taken out of one of the movies! Jam from farmers’ market berries just wouldn’t taste the same.

And while I’m against spinoffs as a general rule, if you’re dramatizing some of my favorite stories of all time, well, that’s another story. Which brings me to…

EMMA APPROVED has started! Are you watching? I am! It’s the second web series by the same people who did the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, this time retelling the story of Emma. I was a latecomer to the whole Lizzie Bennet Diaries business — I only discovered this fantastic web series in August, and I unabashedly confess to some serious, serious binge-watching.

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Binge-watching with my very own Charlotte.

You’ll think to yourself, “Oh, the next episode is only 8 minutes,” but suddenly three hours have gone by. My sister says it’s a fascinating new way to tell stories, using the ways many of us document the stories of our lives today (Twitter, Facebook, and that whole mixed bag of social media as we know it).

And finally, I saw the Austenland movie in September. When I read the book ages ago, I thought it was only marginally entertaining, but it works really, really well as a movie (and they made the main character less irritating in the movie). It’s exactly the type of movie you want to have around as the days start getting shorter.

Have you come across any great Austen-related things lately?

A Big Year for Birthdays

It’s a big year for birthdays (birthdays-slash-anniversaries), everyone. This year, my blog turns two (today, in fact — happy birthday, blog!), I will be turning twenty-nine (again), and we mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.

Image via Jane Austen's Regency World

Image via Jane Austen’s Regency World

It will probably come as a surprise to only a few readers that I subscribe to Jane Austen’s Regency World, the official magazine of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. The January/February issue is almost entirely devoted to Pride and Prejudice, and all sorts of other enormously interesting information, including the identity of the person of who won the auction for Jane Austen’s ring, Kelly Clarkson.

I must confess, I was a little surprised that it was Kelly Clarkson and not a mysterious-and-totally-imaginary secret admirer of mine who converses like Henry Tilney, believes that I could be “the Jane Austen of the Pacific Northwest”, and was saving the ring up as a special surprise present for my 30th (ahem, second 29th!) birthday…but I digress. It turns out a replica of that ring is totally the way to go (major hinting going on, for any mysterious secret admirers) because the United Kingdom declared the ring a national treasure, so Kelly Clarkson can never take it out of the UK.

But enough silliness. The main reason I’m writing tonight is regarding an article in this issue of JARW called “Choose Your Darcy”. That’s right. Amy Patterson, the author of the article, with whom I would very much like to take a turn about the room as well as tea, compares all the different actors who’ve played Mr. Darcy on the silver screen, and, most importantly, comes up with the right answer for who did so best.

Her favorite (and mine)? David Rintoul. Mr. Rintoul plays Mr. Darcy in a so-faithful-to-the-book-you-can-practically-read-along version of Pride and Prejudice that first aired in 1979. I realize I will be alienating many of my friends and probably 90 percent of the internet by not choosing Colin Firth, and my sister by not choosing Matthew MacFadyen, but as far as choosing a Mr. Darcy that most faithfully represents the Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s book and of my imagination, I too have to go with David Rintoul.

The 1979 version is not pretty. The costumes seemed quite wretched. But what can I say? Give me a version I can almost read along with and I’m happy, even if Elizabeth is really prettier than Jane. Also, it’s only four hours, instead of a whopping six, largely because it doesn’t insert scenes that Austen never wrote of Darcy emerging wet-shirted from the lake in front of Pemberley, and used only one or two scenes of Elizabeth walking to communicate her fondness of that activity.

Matthew MacFadyen’s portrayal (circa 2005) is…darned sexy. The best that one can say of that 2005 version is to remark on Matthew MacFadyen’s sexiness, and the fact that it’s one movie long. A faithful representation of the book, it is not (“My pearl for Sundays?” – heaven, give me strength!). Occasionally my sister and I watch the movie together-in-time, if not location, and madly text each other – because this is arguably the most romantic of the versions…and Matthew MacFadyen…and it can be watched in two hours or less, especially if you fast forward liberally, like we sometimes do.

We weren't quite at the same part of the movie here. Nonetheless, enthusiastic.

We weren’t quite at the same part of the movie here. Nonetheless, enthusiastic.

Cut from the image above was my saying something along the lines of “Dang. Matthew MacFadyen.” We aren’t always totally frivolous, either; here you find us actually discussing the story itself:

In between swoons, we discuss authorial decision making.

In between swoons, we discuss authorial decision making.

I just can’t give “best Darcy” to Colin Firth, because, much as I respect Mr. Firth as an actor and like his looks, he just wasn’t the Darcy of the book; he brought too much of the stock “awkward Englishman” to the role. Ms. Patterson says it best in her article in JARW: “David Rintoul, my Mr Darcy, gets closer than any other to capturing the essence of this wonderful, complicated, shy, angry and passionate hero.”

I’ll step down off my soapbox now. Which actor’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy is your favorite?

Post-Holiday Updates and a Brand New Year

Petits fours: Round 1.

Petits fours: Round 1.

You guys! I totally cooked Christmas dinner!! And by “totally cooked Christmas dinner”, I mean that I sat back, sometimes stirred potatoes, opened the windows to air out the smell of the delicious-but-odoriferous balsamic reduction, and ate many of the petits fours that my grandmother brought over before dinner, while my sister, my brother in law, and my dad cooked like the superstars they are.

I feel compelled to note that my real contribution to Christmas Day feasting was breakfast. That’s right, I made coffee for everyone. Second coffee, that is, since everyone made their first cups themselves.

Also I made the Barefoot Contessa’s apple turnovers, mostly myself, which, well, it’s kind of a big deal.

You might remember that my mom had some surgery in December? Which led to some apprehension on my part about my sister and I cooking Christmas dinner together, since she doubts my abilities, and despite the possible wisdom of her doubt, that never fails to irritate me? Well, all that worrying was for naught, because they left me absolutely nothing to do but eat! And clean up. I wasn’t going to mention it, but…

I hope each of you had wonderful holidays with your loved ones.

I love giving presents (I love receiving them too) and this year, the present I was most excited to give were booklists for everyone in my family. I put my librarian skills to work on them all year, building a list of possibilities for everyone, and then choosing the twelve books that I thought were most likely to succeed in pleasing the recipient, making it into a little “book of the month club” booklet. Pictures would be included, but…*

For everyone except my brother in law, I had far more than twelve books to choose from, but my brother-in-law reads mostly nonfiction. And often (so I understand) non-narrative nonfiction…and not books of essays, either. I’m all about the narratives, personally, and our war interests don’t even coincide: while I went through a deeply earnest World War II obsession in my early teens that lingers today, my brother in law (so I understand) is interested in the Civil War. So I ended up having to stretch his recommendations to make twelve months. Thankfully two of the books on his list were super long, so I figured it’s possible that they will take two months each to read. It still kind of feels like a cop-out though.

But that does bring me around to my 2013 reading resolutions. (I use the word “resolution” loosely.) In no particular order, they are:

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  • Read at least one nonfiction book. I give myself a pass on the non-narrative portion, but ideally one I think my brother in law would read and enjoy.
  • Middlemarch. I will finish it or give up entirely before I turn 30, so help me!
  • See if we can’t get a long-distance book club off the ground in 2013 (this means you, E and M!).
  • And, after reading this article in The Guardian online, read at least one book in 2013 that was translated from a language other than English.

What about you? Did you make any reading resolutions for 2013?

* As the girl who left all her Christmas crafting to the last possible moment, pictures didn’t happen before the booklists were slid into stockings. And frankly, my blog resolution for 2013 is not to hold up posts for more than a day because of a lack of pertinent photographs, since my thankless family hasn’t responded to my plea for photographs with actual photographs. Perhaps they’ve thrown the booklists away and just don’t want me to know.

November, or Where I’ve Been

November. It has not been a good month for blogging.

I wish I could tell you that instead of blogging, I was embracing NaNoWriMo, and started writing a novel at last, but this would be untrue.

What’s true is that November kind of gets me down. The beginning of November marks the end of Daylight Savings Time, and as ready as I felt myself to be for the “brighter” mornings, the early darkness of the evenings has sapped my energy far more than I ever expect it to or remember it will. Between that, a whirlwind weekend trip to visit my newly-married friend in her new far-Canadian home, looking for and applying to library jobs, and the Thanksgiving holiday, I fear I have sadly neglected my little blog.

Maybe one reason November is so disheartening is that it’s basically the beginning of winter, here in the Pacific Northwest, anyway. The chill of mountain snow touches the wind, and what with the limited daylight and the dropping temperatures, it seems like the only thing left in life is to break out the fleeces, burrow under blankets, read a pile of books, and eat. Which is largely what I’ve done this month.

Perhaps the biggest news around here is that due to some surgery my mother is having in December, my sister and I will be cooking Christmas dinner. Together.

My sister doesn’t hold much stock in my culinary ability. When she got married, she did a dessert bar instead of a wedding cake, and my contribution to the dessert bar was my grandmother’s famous cookies, which are on the fussier end of the cookie-baking spectrum. Discussing this beforehand, her comment to me was, “Are you sure you don’t want someone else to maybe do them for you?” (And this was before I wrote the recipe down wrong and completely botched the first batch.) Some might call her lack of faith in me justified by my failure to make cooking a priority throughout the majority of my 20s. I’m really trying to be better about cooking, but in the dark that has been November, the ease of tomato soup and cheese sandwiches often won the battle.

However, which I feel to some extent cancels the lack of imagination in my November dinners, I did use “artisan” bread* for the cheese sandwiches. I’m a big fan of artisan bread (because if you’re going to eat bread, it might as well be good bread, right)? The only drawback to artisan bread is that mostly you have to slice it yourself, and sometimes, when you’re very hungry and having a clumsy day, you find yourself accidentally slicing your fingers along with the bread. Although this is certainly not the first time I’ve cut myself with my very sharp bread knife, this is the worst so far.

(Since I cut my left thumb, which isn’t even the thumb I use to hit space bar, the cut can’t really even contribute to my failure to blog for the most of the month, sadly. Somehow the lack of blog posts would feel more legitimate with an excuse like “I cut off the top of my thumb! But not all the way!”)

Further cancelling the tomato-soup-cheese-sandwich-extravaganza-also-known-as-November, I bought two cookbooks this month, both of them by food bloggers. However much I may lose heart when I catch sight of a long list of complicated instructions, I really do enjoy reading about cooking and food. Hopes are high, in any case, that these will inspire some culinary creativity in the face of early dark and cold. Personally I think we really need to try out a Smitten Kitchen recipe for Christmas, like the apple cider caramels.

* Technically, the artisan bread was store-bought. Which may negate its cancelling effect, in the end.