Archive for the ‘About Books’ Category


Emma by Jane Austen Bevy of Books

 

 

 

Emma – Jane Austen  RR

I love that the year started with Jane Austen.

 

Jack of Kinrowan – Charles de Lint  RR

I read this because I was talking to my son about books – he recently started reading for pleasure at the ripe old age of 24. This was one of the few (non-school, non-Harry Potter) books he’d ever read.

Dreams Underfoot – Charles de Lint  RR

Debt: the first 5000 years – David Graeber NF

This is a mind-altering book. It’s not a finance book, it’s an anthropology book about the human process of money and how we’ve used debt or money or whatever to share goods and services between ourselves. Completely changed how I relate to things like economic news and saving money. I read this for a book club I was in briefly – it lasted 3 months after I joined, coincidence?

Anil’s Ghost – Michael Ondaatje  RR
Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card (audio)

I liked Ender’s Game, but I loved this sequel. Much more about communities of people rather than individuals.

Telegraph Avenue – Michael Chabon

New Chabon!  Does not disappoint. It was a great year for new books from some of my uber-favorite authors

The Last Colony – John Scalzi
Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou (audio) NF MM

Ms. Angelou’s first memoir. I liked the second one more, maybe because she’s my age rather than a young girl, as she is in this one. Still a great read.

Towers of Midnight – Brandon Sanderson/Robert Jordan RR
Memory of Light – Brandon Sanderson/Robert Jordan

Finally! The conclusion of the Wheel of Time. Did not disappoint, but I was sad to see it end.

My Life in France – Julia Child RR NF MM

This woman was living the life I’m looking for – traveling while working on something she was passionate about. Learning about herself while she learned about new places and new skills.

Kicking and Dreaming – Ann & Nancy Wilson NF

Their autobiography! Was wonderful, read more than half of it while sitting in the jury duty room in Portland.

Xenocide – Orson Scott Card (audio)

Also, good, but didn’t knock Speaker for the Dead out of first place.

Tapping the Dream Tree – Charles de Lint  RR
The Rules of Inheritance – Claire Bidwell Smith NF MM

Memoirs are my new thing – I blame Lidia Yuknavitch & Cheryl Strayed. This one is the story of an only child experiencing the loss of her mother as a young woman, and then her father a few years later.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver Bevy of BooksFlight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver
The Round House – Louise Erdrich

Seriously – new Kingsolver followed by new Erdrich – does NOT get any better. And these two are quite possibly the best that either has written. Incredible.

Fault of our Stars – John Green (audio)
Blue Desert – Charles Bowden RR NF

I had to re-read this because I was headed to Arizona with my sister. Just as powerful and well-written as I remember.

Z : A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Therese Anne Fowler

This book made me hate Ernest Hemingway, and colored my opinion of F. Scott Fitzgerald forever.  The fictionalized account of Zelda Fitzgerald’s life (based on the real facts, with the empty spaces extrapolated). Now I see things like Midnight in Paris (a great flick) and think NO!! She was robbed! I was sitting by the pool in Arizona and PISSED at the way she was treated.

Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott NF MM
Wizard Abroad – Diane Duane RR
So You Want to be a Wizard – Diane Duane RR
Deep Wizardry – Diane Duane RR
High Wizardry – Diane Duane RR
Wizard’s Holiday – Diane Duane RR
Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert RR NF MM
Children of the Mind – Orson Scott Card (audio)

Didn’t finish this one… just seemed to go on and on.

Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi NF MM
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg (audio) NF

Another life-shaking book. How we develop habits, how we can substitute new ones for old ones. How data mining is allowing big business to use our habits to send business their way. Fascinating for anyone who likes psychology or wants to revamp their life.

Girlchild – Tupelo Hassman

This one read like a fantastic memoir. The writing was impressive.

Redshirts – John Scalzi (audio)

Redshirst by John Scalzi Bevy of Books

Every sci-fi geek seriously needs to read this. The ‘extras’ on a surprisingly-similar-to-the-Enterprise spaceship start to question why (for instance) the Captain goes on almost every away mission, but the only people who die are those wearing red shirts. Smart and funny.

Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal?  – Jeanette Winterson NF MM
Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell (audio) RR NF

Somehow, his analysis never gets boring.

Un Lun Dun – China Miéville RR
The Summer Prince – Alaya Dawn Johnson

The first book of hers I’ve read – powerful writing and fantastic feminist speculative fiction.

Panopticon blog – Franklin Habit NF

Okay, it’s not a book – but it’s hella long and I read every post. 892 posts going back to 2005. A knitting blog written by a gay man in Chicago – I don’t knit, nor am I a man, or gay – but it is wonderful. I always seem to find awesome blogs just as their taking off and the bloggers are too busy to post any longer.

Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch RR NF MM
The Scar – China Miéville RR
The Magician – Lev Grossman (audio) RR
Yes, Chef – Marcus Samuelsson NF MM
Without a Summer – Mary Robinette Kowal

Jane Austen + magic. Seriously.

Kraken – China Miéville RR
Finding Your Way in a Wild New World – Martha Beck NF
Zoo City – Lauren Beukes RR
Manhood for Amateur – Michael Chabon (audio) RR NF MM
Shades of Milk & Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal
Glamour in Glass – Mary Robinette Kowal
Sleight – Kristen Kaschock

Another book that sucked you into a world you wanted to move to. Sad, powerful, a little trippy.

Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon RR
The Big Meow – Diane Duane
Beatrice & Virgil – Yann Martel
Eliza’s Daughter – Joan Aiken
Broken for You – Stephanie Kallos

Oh, oh yeah. My friend at work recommended this one – not knowing I had a thing for mosaics. Really great novel about healing what is broken without hiding the scars.

The Human Division – John Scalzi
Cooked – Michael Pollan (audio) NF

More Pollan goodness.

Sense & Sensibility – Jane Austen RR
Fearless: One Woman One Kayak One Continent – Joe Glickman NF

Fearless by Joe Glickman Bevy of Books

Impressive story of a woman who circumnavigated the continent of Australia in a kayak. Alone. With almost no support team. And broke the record.

A Visit to Highbury – Joan Austen – Leigh
Persuasion – Jane Austen RR
Death Comes to Pemberley – PD James RR
Among Others – Jo Walton RR
The God Engines – John Scalzi

Possibly my favorite Scalzi. Most of his are good sci-fi, this one is more trippy and mess-with-your head. I like that.

Love Medicine – Louse Erdrich RR
Later Days in Highbury – Joan Austen-Leigh
A Wizard Alone – Diane Duane
Beet Queen – Louise Erdrich RR
Pilgrimage – Annie Leibovitz NF

Had to read this because of something Lidia Yuknavitch said on Facebook. A book of amazing photos and essays.

Last Report of Miracles at Little No Horse – Louise Erdrich RR
Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – David Foster Wallace NF

His reputation is not hyperbole, no one writes like this guy could.

My Foreign Cities – Elizabeth Scarboro NF
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I picked this up in a fowl mood and headed for bed – read half of it before I could put it down.

A Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

Hated it. Only finished it so I could say that with no equivocation. Didn’t like it one bit.

Idoru – William Gibson RR
All Tomorrow’s Parties – William Gibson RR
Graphic Canon pt 1 – Russ Kick
Dirt Work – Christine Byl NF MM

Memoir of a woman who worked for the Park Service in Glacier National Park in Montana (just down the road from my sister’s house) and Denali National Park in AK. Woman working in a man’s world and kicking ass.

Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter (audio)
Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Ocean at the end of the Lane Neil Gaiman Bevy of BooksNEW GAIMAN. And possibly better than American Gods, though very different. Loved this muchly.

A Dance of Dragons – George RR Martin RR
Growing up Female in America: Ten Lives – Ed. Eve Merriam NF MM
The Beautiful Struggle – Ta-Nehisi Coates NF MM

Again a book where the language transports you into this man’s world. He’s a columnist at The Atlantic and knocks me out with his analysis and his writing.

The Dragon Reborn – Robert Jordan
Eye of the World – Robert Jordan
Knife of Dreams – Robert Jordan
Tower of Midnight – Brandon Sanderson/ Robert Jordan

Had this idea for a blog comparing the rampant sexism in the Song of Ice & Fire to the much more progressive Wheel of Time – got lost in the research and never finished it. Have three or four drafts somewhere that maybe I’ll get back to one day.

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

Another book I picked up and couldn’t put back down. Was really glad Bringing up the Bodies was waiting for me when I got home. Read this in Alaska while I was there in August.

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

Trippy time-travel horror fiction. I liked Zoo City better, but this was a great read.

King Rat – China Miéville

Early Mieville. Didn’t like it, didn’t finish it. Or maybe I was just in a hurry to get to Bringing up the Bodies.

Bringing Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel

Just as compelling as Wolf Hall.

The Shelter Cycle – Peter Rich

An interesting little book about two kids who grew up in a weird cult and their very different experiences as adults after it falls apart.

Memory of Light – Brandon Sanderson/ Robert Jordan

Gathering Storm – Brandon Sanderson/ Robert Jordan

Population 485 – Michael Perry NF MM RR
Truck: A Love Story – Michael Perry NF MM RR

This is the first book of Perry’s I read, and I fell in love. He came to Powell’s, signed my books and he was great. He’s the perfect blend of the blue-collar people I come from and the high-falutin’ lit people I call my own.

Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson

As the writer who did such a good job of finishing Robert Jordan’s masterpiece, I wanted to check out his own stuff. Loved this book a lot.

Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good EggMichael Perry NF MM RR
Tracks – Louise Erdrich RR
Bingo Palace – Louise Erdrich RR
Dial H for Hero – China Miéville
Pattern Recognition – William Gibson RR
Spook County – William Gibson RR
Drowned Cities – Paolo Bacigalupi
A Year in the World Bevy of Books
A Year in the World – Frances Mayes NF MM

This book might be the reason I quit my job and run away. She spends a month in different countries – a small-boat guided tour of Greek islands, Portugal, Spain, Fez, more I can’t remember. She has a thing for tile & mosaics like I do, and she likes to experience her locations through food. Want.

The Rice Room – Ben Fong-Torres NF

The autobiography (not really a memoir) of the editor of Rolling Stone. I mostly picked it up because he’s portrayed in the movie Almost Famous and I loved his name. The story of a second-generation Chinese immigrant made good (with lots of info on San Francisco in the 60s and 70s).

Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan RR NF
Thud – Terry Pratchett RR
Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon RR
Benediction – Kent Haruf
Persuasion – Jane Austen RR
Sandition & Other Stories – Jane Austen

My last unread Austen. And now there is no more.

Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker RR
Grass – Sheri  S. Tepper
Vicious – Victoria Schwab
Singer From the Sea – Sheri  S. Tepper
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
The Water Rising – Sheri  S. Tepper
David & Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell NF

New Gladwell! Not my favorite, but still all kinds of interesting things to think on.

Gate to Women’s Country – Sheri  S. Tepper
The Companions – Sheri  S. Tepper
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood RR
Serenity comic series – Joss Whedon
Little Country – Charles de Lint RR
Beauty – Sheri  S. Tepper
The Memory Palace – Mira Bartok NF MM

Another gut-wrenching and powerful memoir a la Yuknavitch and Strayed. A woman who must hide from her bi-polar mother to protect herself.

Up Against It – MJ Locke
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

Because I’d never read it. Got more than halfway through before I started liking it, turned out to be a pretty good book. Still have issues with him.

Mythago Wood – Robert Holdstock

Picked it up because William Gibson recommended it on Twitter. Liked it a lot.

Diving into the Wreck – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Paint it Black – Janet Fitch

I bought this for $4 at least five years ago (based on loving White Oleander). Don’t know what took me so long to read it, but it was great.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon RR
Fuzzy Nation – John Scalzi
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronté RR

Was jonesing for Austen but read them all recently, so I went with Bronte.

Uglies – Scott Westerfeld

I was at my sister’s in Montana and didn’t like any of the books I’d brought with me, so I was trolling the house for something to read and my niece handed me this. I stayed up until 2am on Christmas night finishing it in one go. YA post-apocalyptic fiction. Just finished book four, Extras, last night.

Tough Customer – Sandra Brown
Rise & Shine – Anne Quindlen
Moxyland – Lauren  Beukes

139 books
RR – re-read  47
NF – Non-fiction 32
MM – Memoir 18
Audio – 12

I read a lot of books last year. 139 averages out to about 1 book every 2.6 days.  My intention was to make comments about my favorite books and where I was when I read certain books, etc. But this has been a draft for a few weeks now – so I’m just going to post it without embellishment. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have (like – how the heck did I read 139 books when I worked 3 jobs last year?).

139 books
RR – re-read  44
NF – Non-fiction 32
MM – Memoir 15
Audio – 12

Emma – Jane Austen  RR
Jack of Kinrowan – Charles de Lint  RR
Dreams Underfoot – Charles de Lint  RR
Debt: the first 5000 years – David Graeber NF
Anil’s Ghost – Michael Ondaatje  RR
Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card (audio)
Telegraph Avenue – Michael Chabon
The Last Colony – John Scalzi
Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou (audio) NF MM
Towers of Midnight – Brandon Sanderson/Robert Jordan RR
Memory of Light – Brandon Sanderson/Robert Jordan
My Life in France – Julia Child RR NF MM
Kicking and Dreaming – Ann & Nancy Wilson NF
Xenocide – Orson Scott Card (audio)
Tapping the Dream Tree – Charles de Lint  RR
The Rules of Inheritance – Claire Bidwell Smith NF MM
Flight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver
The Round House – Louise Erdrich
Fault of our Stars – John Green (audio)
Blue Desert – Charles Bowden RR NF
Z : A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Therese Anne Fowler
Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott NF MM
Wizard Abroad – Diane Duane RR
So You Want to be a Wizard – Diane Duane RR
Deep Wizardry – Diane Duane RR
High Wizardry – Diane Duane RR
Wizard’s holiday – Diane Duane RR
Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert RR NF MM
Children of the Mind – Orson Scott Card (audio)
Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi NF MM
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg (audio) NF
Girlchild – Tupelo Hassman
Redshirts – John Scalzi (audio)
Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal?  – Jeanette Winterson NF MM
Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell (audio) RR NF
Un Lun Dun – China Miéville RR
The Summer Prince – Alaya Dawn Johnson
Panopticon blog – Franklin Habit NF
Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch RR NF MM
The Scar – China Miéville RR
The Magician – Lev Grossman (audio) RR
Yes, Chef – Marcus Samuelsson NF MM
Without a Summer – Mary Robinette Kowal
Kraken – China Miéville RR
Finding Your Way in a Wild New World – Martha Beck NF
Zoo City – Lauren Beukes RR
Manhood for Amateur – Michael Chabon (audio) RR NF MM
Shades of Milk & Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal
Glamour in Glass – Mary Robinette Kowal
Sleight – Kristen Kaschock
Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon RR
The Big Meow – Diane Duane
Beatrice & Virgil – Yann Martel
Eliza’s Daughter – Joan Aiken
Broken for You – Stephanie Kallos
The Human Division – John Scalzi
Cooked – Michael Pollan (audio) NF
Sense & Sensibility – Jane Austen RR
Fearless: One Woman One Kayak One Continent – Joe Glickman NF
A Visit to Highbury – Joan Austen – Leigh
Persuasion – Jane Austen RR
Death Comes to Pemberley – PD James RR
Among Others – Jo Walton RR
The God Engines – John Scalzi
Love Medicine – Louse Erdrich RR
Later Days in Highbury – Joan Austen-Leigh
A Wizard Alone – Diane Duane
Beet Queen – Louise Erdrich RR
Pilgrimage – Annie Leibovitz NF
Last Report of Miracles at Little No Horse – Louise Erdrich RR
Supposedly Fun thing I’ll never do again – David Foster Wallace NF
My Foreign Cities – Elizabeth Scarboro NF
Gone Girl – Gilllian Flynn
A Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
Idoru – William Gibson RR
All Tomorrows Parties – William Gibson RR
Graphic Canon pt 1 – Russ Kick
Dirt Work – Christine Byl NF
Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter (audio)
Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
A Dance of Dragons – George RR Martin RR
Growing up Female in America: Ten Lives – Ed. Eve Merriam NF MM
The Beautiful Struggle – Ta-Nehisi Coates NF
The Dragon Reborn – Robert Jordan
Eye of the World – Robert Jordan
Knife of Dreams – Robert Jordan
Tower of Midnight – Brandon Sanderson/ Robert Jordan
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes
King Rat – China Miéville
Bringing Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel
The Shelter Cycle – Peter Rich
Memory of Light – Brandon Sanderson/ Robert Jordan
Gathering Storm – Brandon Sanderson/ Robert Jordan
Population 485 – Michael Perry NF MM
Truck: A Love Story – Michael Perry NF MM
Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson
Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg – Michael Perry NF MM
Tracks – Louise Erdrich RR
Bingo Palace – Louise Erdrich RR
Dial H for Hero – China Miéville
Pattern Recognition – William Gibson RR
Spook County – William Gibson RR
Drowned Cities – Paolo Bacigalupi
A Year in the World – Frances Mayes NF MM
The Rice Room – Ben Fong Torres NF
Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan RR NF
Thud – Terry Pratchett RR
Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon RR
Benediction – Kent Haruf
Persuasion – Jane Austen RR
Sandition & other stories – Jane Austen
Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker RR
Grass – Sheri  S. Tepper
Vicious – Victoria Schwab
Singer From the Sea – Sheri  S. Tepper
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
The Water Rising – Sheri  S. Tepper
David & Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell NF
Gate to Women’s Country – Sheri  S. Tepper
The Companions – Sheri  S. Tepper
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood RR
Serenity comic series – Joss Whedon
Little County – Charles de Lint RR
Beauty – Sheri  S. Tepper
The Memory Palace – Mira Bartok NF
Up Against It – MJ Locke
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Mythago Wood – Robert Holdstock
Diving into the Wreck – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Paint it Black – Janet Fitch
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon RR
Fuzzy Nation – John Scalzi
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronté RR
Uglies – Scott Westerfeld
Tough Customer – Sandra Brown
Rise & Shine – Anne Quindlen
Moxyland – Lauren  Beukes

Sheri S. Tepper. Somehow I missed her. A FANTASTIC sci-fi/fantasy author who’s been publishing award-winning novels since the Eighties and I don’t recall even hearing her name.  Wikipedia has her as an author ‘particularly known as a feminist science fiction writer.’ If I’d heard that before, obviously I would have run to the library to check her out! But it’s never too late, and who doesn’t love finding a new favorite that has DECADES of writing behind her – meaning there’s lots of books waiting to be read.

It was John Scalzi who waved the flag for me – he wrote about Grass being one of ten sci-fi books that mean the most to him. He lauds her as a world-builder equal to Frank Herbert, and a better writer of characters than most. That’s a huge recommendation, and I was in the market for a new book. The library had Grass immediately available (it was written in 1993) so I got it right away.

Tepper Grass bevy of books What to read

I devoured it, and it was everything he said and more. A great example of how the science and fantasy elements of this genre are not separate things, but , in the right hands, the best way to build a new world and populate it with beings, human and other. The plot and characters are impressive, but the theme put me over the top. I’m a die-hard believer in cooperation over competition, and Tepper makes a case for love and trust winning over separation and fear that includes a future Earth of scant resources and fringe religious groups in power, and other worlds full of rainbow grass, murderous horse-like animals  and mind-reading alien wildcats that will keep you turning the pages until early in the morning. It was my first Tepper and so far my favorite.

It’s the second book by a new (to me, in this case) author that can really tell the tale. Sometimes that first book is an aberration, or a side trip, or a pinnacle, and the rest is average fare (or worse). So I approached Singer from the Sea with great hope and a bit of trepidation. Could she hit the same bar as Grass a second time, or even get close to it? Yes, she can. Singer from the Sea holds themes similar to Grass (environmental disaster back home, new worlds populated by familiar-seeming humans doing stupid things), but the world-building and character development are equally engaging and I again stayed up way too late.

The Water's Rising Sheri S. Tepper What to Read Bevy of Books

I started Grass on October 23, and I’ve read three more Tepper novels after Singer; The Waters Rising, The Companions and The Gate to Women’s Country. Not a dud in the bunch. The only negative to reading them all in a row is the repetitive themes feel, well, repetitive. But even that very minor caveat is more an artifact of my reading them one after the other than any borrowing or repeating of story. Each world looks and feels different, each heroine (because, yes, each book has a female protagonist) is her own unique individual and each plot wanders a different road, a different fork and arrives somewhere new. The Gate to Women’s Country stands alone as a more negative view of the future (and no aliens). It reminded me so much of The Handmaid’s Tale that I had to go back and read that again.

The Companions Sheri S. Tepper Bevy of Books what to read

Yes, the artwork IS awful, but I promise all the insides are wonderful.

 

Wikipedia has 34 novels listed for Tepper, plus various shorter works, poetry and essays (she wrote pamphlets for Planned Parenthood in the 60s and 70s!).

Here’s the answer to the two questions I get most often – ‘what have you read lately?’ and ‘what are you reading now?’ It’s going to be Tepper, Tepper, Tepper for a while!

I’ve been dipping back into Jane Austen the last week or so. I stumbled on a ‘sequel’ to Sense & Sensibility by Joan Aiken — a favorite author from my childhood — so I jumped on it. And of course, reading Eliza’s Daughter, made me question my memory of events in S&S, so I had to re-read that. Then I was deep in, so I wanted to read Persuasion (mostly because it’s the one I don’t own of the Austen books I like best — those being Emma, S&S, P&P and Persuasion. Northanger Abbey is okay but lighter, and Mansfield Park I don’t like much at all).

So anyway, I went to pick up Persuasion at the library (no need to put this on hold, every location has multiple copies of all things Austen, and Persuasion being less popular, it was indeed there on the shelf waiting for me). And… right next to it was something called A Visit to Highbury, a ‘different perspective’ of the events in Emma by the great great grand-niece of Ms. Austen. There’s another one after it, Later Days at Highbury.

Sequels done by someone other than the original author are always iffy. And sequels written 200 years after the original, even iffier. Sequels of fantastically popular, iconic, still-in-print works — well, that’s taking a risk of a whole other magnitude. Purists will despise you, fans might mock you, and haters will crush you. These two novels took very different attitudes toward their source material, and the results are very different indeed.

Joan Aiken is a pretty popular author. She wrote Nightbirds on Nantucket, Black Hearts in Battersea, and dozens of other children’s books. I own those two plus The Wolves of Willoughby Chase — three related books (and there are many more, apparently, that were not in my local library as a child). She wrote more than 100 books in her 79 years on the planet.  This is no upstart trying to get a bump from the Austen obsessions of the rest of us. I was excited to read this one.

sense and sensibility eliza's daughter jane austen joan aikenAiken’s book is a first-person novel from the perspective of Eliza’s daughter, Eliza’s daughter, also named Eliza. That would be Eliza — first love of Colonel Brandon — her daughter, Eliza — child of the unknown father who seduced Eliza in her marital misery – and her daughter, Eliza — daughter of scapegrace Willoughby, first love of Marianne.  Got that? It was a bit of a struggle, I kept losing track of which generation we were on. For instance, when this Eliza (and we never see the others) says she’d never seen Colonel Brandon, I had to go to S&S and check the story, because I was sure he said he’d seen her often — but that was her mother, not her.

Aiken has no qualms writing a very different future for the principal characters of S&S — we see Elinor, Edward Ferrars, Marianne, and Mrs. Dashwood, as well as brief glimpses of Lucy Steele Ferrars and her husband, Robert. Edward is bitter and stoic, Marianne is unfeeling and selfish, Mrs. Dashwood has lost her mind, and only Elinor comes off as a decent person — but she’s miserable. This is NOT the future we wished for them! And the Interwebs is quite full of people telling Austen fans to avoid this book at all costs. I saw none of that chatter before I picked it up, and I was sorry to see Aiken’s complete lack of faith in these characters’ futures. I wonder why she even wrote a book that dealt with them, since she seemed to dislike them excessively? Maybe she wanted us all to know how she felt about them.

Eliza’s story is compellingly readable and rings true as a real person and a real life in almost every instance. Actually, it all rings true (because who actually reveals everything about themselves?), but a few choices made by the author rendered the whole book less satisfying.

First the good: Eliza is scrappy and no-nonsense, kind and generous to a fault. She rescues a baby from her wet nurse’s neglect, refuses to gossip to make her school life easier, overcomes the negligence of her guardian (Brandon does not come off well, and the blame is placed on Marianne), escapes from would-be rapists, and rescues Elinor from starvation and fever. The plot is one damned thing after another for this poor girl from the wrong side of the sheets. But she never gives up, and rarely complains.

The bad: this ‘never complains’ part is part of the problem. Her sexual abuse as a child (by her tutor) isn’t even mentioned until she’s an adult — not even hinted at properly. And the book ends (seriously, the last paragraph) with her revealing that she’s PREGNANT, when there has been no hint of any kind of sexual encounter occurring in the previous decade or more. WHAT?! This is what sent me to the internet, wondering if there was a sequel/interview/close reading somewhere that could tell me what the heck was going on here. I found nothing but vitriol aimed at Aiken for her treatment of beloved Austen heroines and heroes.

This is not to say that the book is poorly written, exactly. If that sentence had been left out, I would have closed it happy — even with the character assassination. I can ignore Aiken’s opinion of the future Dashwoods, et. al., this book would have been a fine book unaffiliated with any Austen characters at all. But why make a poor attempt to dress up the ending by 1) revealing a pregnancy we have no investment in, and 2) making every reader doubt their reading of the whole book? Seems a poor choice for an otherwise accomplished text.

joan austen-leigh Emma A visit to highbury Mrs. Goddard

The original title was Mrs. Goddard, Mistress of a School. I bet they changed it for us American Austen noobs.

A Visit to Highbury is a VERY DIFFERENT voyage into the world of Austen. Joan Austen-Leigh (hey, both authors are named Joan… just noticed that) makes a point of saying in the introduction that she puts not a single word in the mouths of Austen’s speaking characters in Emma, adheres strictly to the timeline and details of that novel, and only makes up things about the silent characters in Emma (notably Mrs. Goddard, mistress of the school where Harriet Smith lives). The story is told in a series of letters between Mrs. Goddard and her sister in London. Mrs. Pinkney is newly widowed, remarried and lonely for people, so her sister sends her gossipy letters (almost wrote ‘emails’ right there) about the fine folks in Highbury. Mrs. Goddard’s opinions and descriptions of Emma and her friends and family mirror exactly what Austen wrote in Emma, so purists can read it with no qualms.

The book is thoroughly enjoyable. I read it in one go, not putting it down until it was done (it is only 180 small pages). The events taking place in letters written and then received and responded to create a kind of constant cliffhanger situation as we wait for the other to respond, answer questions and clear up confusion. Of course, there is more going on in their lives than what happens in Emma — will Mrs. Pinkney ever be happy with her husband. Are those poor girls at the school in London really being mistreated? Lots of new plot that in no way alters what we know and love about Highbury and its residents, but it adds some background and a new list of events and characters to love (some quite similar to other Austen creations, including the obligatory visit to Bath, Naval officers, illegitimate children and apothecaries for everyone). I look forward to the sequel.

I think there is room for some middle ground between the two approaches to (what amounts to) Austen fan fiction.  Aiken makes you despair of every picking up another one, and Austen-Leigh treats the characters as demigods not be to besmirched by her unworthy hands.

jane austen P D James Death comes to pemberely Pride and prejudice

BBC is making a mini-series out of this right now.

I think the best Austen fan-fic I read was Death Comes to Pemberley, what could properly be called a sequel to Pride and Prejudice by P.D. James, a popular author of crime fiction.* The events take place a few years after the end of P&P, when Lizzie’s wild sister, Lydia and her ne’er-do-well husband, Wickham, arrive at Pemberley. The book is a murder mystery totally in keeping with the characters of P&P, and a great read. James clearly loved those characters, but wasn’t afraid to shake things up a bit.

I can’t imagine taking on the challenge of writing in Austen’s world — I’d be more likely to take the ‘inspired by but no way I’m actually calling my character Elizabeth Bennet’ route, done by tons of writers (my most recent favorite, the speculative fiction books of Mary Robinette Kowal). You get points for bravery, but be prepared for the firing squad.

*I also read a collection of short fiction ‘inspired’ by Austen’s work (Jane Austen Made Me Do It), an uneven collection that none-the-less contained some real gems.

I have several friends/family members who are baffled by my habit of re-reading my favorite books. But I’m baffled by their bafflement. Doesn’t everyone revisit their book-character friends? Don’t they miss them?

I imagine that I first re-read books because I had a limited supply. My house always had books in it, but there weren’t hundreds. We made frequent trips to the library (thank goodness) but the end of one book did not always coincide with an influx of new reading material. And a time during which there is no book-in-progress is a predicament not to be borne.  As a result, I read every book that was in my house — sappy autobiographies of accident and cancer victims (Mom), mindless teen-girl fiction, Laura Ingalls Wilder , and Nancy Drew mysteries (older sister).

And when nothing else appealed to me, I went back to the books I had loved enough to acquire or been lucky enough to receive as gifts. The Chronicles of Narnia box set was (and still is) a cherished gift when I was 11 or 12. Anne McCaffrey’s dragon/fire lizard books were chosen as free ‘Reading is Fundamental’ books, and Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet was permanently borrowed from the junior high library (sorry, Mrs. Hartner!). Lucy will once again discover that the scary wizard is really a kind old man, and Eustace will learn from being turned into a dragon. Menolly will escape from the thread, and find a place where she can be herself and thrive (and even fall in love). Meg & Charles Wallace will again blow my mind with a vision of the world as malleable and open to the will of every one of us.

Swiftly Tilting Planet Madeleine L'Engle

I’m sure that winged unicorn on the cover was one of the reasons I picked this book up

But this doesn’t really explain why a woman with disposable cash and full access to one of the best libraries in the country still reads books she’s already read. Stories in which she has already discovered the surprises, admired the prose and pondered the lesson.

Why do I re-read them?

  • Because I’ve forgotten some minor detail of the plot and cannot rest.
  • Because my particular sad/angry/happy/wistful/etc. mood requires a book to match, and [insert book title here] matches that mood exactly
  • Because the book in question blew my mind wide open in a new and unexpected way, and I want to experience that again — and likely go deeper in, where there are more new things to ponder.
  • Because, once again, the end of one book did not coincide with an influx of new material. Or the available new material does not fit the current reading mood.
  • Because the series is 15 freakin’ books long and I don’t exactly remember everything from Book One (first read in 1992), which will impair my ability to fully enjoy Book 15 the way I want/need/deserve to.
A Memory of Light Robert Jordan Brandon Sanderson Wheel of Time

Seriously

  • Because the series is (currently) five books long, the new one is expected next month, and I can’t wait so I re-read Book Four. Or maybe books One through Four.
  • Because the series is 15 books long, and reading Book 16 reminds you how much you love those books/characters/plotlines, so you start over at Book One.
  • Because my current book brought a previous book to mind, along with the urge to read that book.
  • Because the book I just finished blew my mind wide open in a new and unexpected way, and I need time to sit with those new ideas — but since a time during which there is no book-in-progress is a predicament not to be borne, it is safer to re-read a book which I know won’t interfere with this pondering.
  • Because that book broke my heart/gave me a new attitude/made me want to run away to Hawaii and I want to feel that again.

 

I’m sure there are dozens of other reasons why I reread the books I love, but this is the hit list (or possibly the top ten – hey, there really are ten of them!).

Where do you stand on the read once/ read over-and-over spectrum? Why? Hit me.