"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Austen in August and other updates

Central Oregon was lovely, as per usual, but I did not do as much reading as intended on my short vacation. In fact, I read nothing from What Matters in Jane Austen? so am dreadfully off the intended pace. Before I talk about this book, here is an update of what I did read this past week...

Our trip to Central Oregon took much longer than anticipated because of bad traffic in the Tacoma area and a forest fire causing a need for a detour over the Mt. Hood pass. Don and I were able to finish the audiobook The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. A nonfiction book about the famous brothers who were first in flight made for fascinating listening.

While stuck in traffic in Tacoma, waiting to pick up Don for our trip south, I listened to a portion of Andrew Smith's latest book, The Alex Crow. It is another weirdly compelling novel by the Boston Globe/Horn Book winner of last year. I finished the book over the week-end, reading the print edition. I will post a review soon.

I made a bit of progress on Ishmael. I am reading this book slower than I usually read books because there is so much philosophy to digest along the way. I took this book with me to the swimming pool and found it to be too heavy for that type of reading.

Lastly, on the way home from Bend, Don and I listened to the audiobook version of Their Eyes Were Watching God which is a wonderful way to consume this classic book since it is written in the Southern Black vernacular of the 1930s. Ruby Dee, the voice actor, does an amazing job reading the text. We weren't able to finish the book on the way home but I continued listening to it as I drove around to all my meetings and appointments yesterday. It is really something.

Austen in August Reading Challenge, update the second.
Austen in August is a reading challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader. I am reading What Matters in Jane Austen? The book is divided into twenty essays that answer questions about what different elements in her writing mean. My goal is to not only finish the book this month but to blog about it at least once a week. Below is my second weekly update. I will highlight a few things from each chapter, by no means are my summaries comprehensive.

7. Why is weather important? Austen was the first novelist to "mark small changes in the weather that anyone might notice on any ordinary day. This is partially for circumstantial precision...but more than this, Austen likes to make her plots turn on the weather." This might not be noticeable unless one looks at her body of work as a whole. For example, it is a rainstorm in Persuasion that brings Captain Wentworth and Anne face to face in a shop only to be interrupted by Mr. Elliot. Suddenly Wentworth realizes he is second to Elliot. "Nothing like a little bad weather to bring matters to a crisis." In another example, Emma finally realizes that she loves Mr. Knightly and has likely thrown away the chance to tell him. The weather matches her mood, rainy and cold. But when a chance sunbreak occurs she goes out to the garden and who should she meet but Knightly. He, after an extra turn around the garden, tells her he loves her. The sudden fine weather is a portent of good things to come.

8. Do we ever see the lower classes? The author of this book, John Mullan, believes that Austen wants her readers to be unsettled by her characters' negligence of the lower orders. Reading Austen's books one will become aware of the servants around the edges. Occasionally characters will mention them or engage with the servants, or even wait to talk about a subject until the servant leaves the room, knowing that servants have ears and nothing will remain confidential otherwise. "In a nice piece of sociological realism on Austen's part, the character who complains the most about servants ... is the impecunious 'slatten' Mrs. Price in Mansfield Park." Fanny hasn't been home for more than a few minutes when her mother starts complaining about Rebecca, the housemaid and her slovenly ways. Yet, Mrs. Price is quite slovenly herself. When she does think to ask about her sisters, Mrs. Price wants to know about the troubles Mrs. Bertram has with her servants. The third sister in the story, Mrs. Norris, is often found bossing around the servants even though they are not employed by her. "Austen's monsters are invariably attentive to the lower orders, for thus they exercise their self-importance."

9. Which important characters never speak? All of the main characters of Austen's novels speak but quite a few of her secondary characters don't. Or these characters may talk all the time but have so little to say that they are never quoted. For example, Captain Benwick plays an important role in Persuasion and he talks a great deal but has no recorded dialogue. "The effect is extraordinary, and surely affects readers who are not necessarily conscious of Benwick's speechlessness...we are left with the suspicion that he is performing by rote...that all his outpouring amounts to no real expression of individual feeling or opinion."  Mrs. Bennet's sister in Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Philips, is a gossip and drops by the house often after the Lydia affair yet none of her words are recorded. "She is very loud, but has nothing to say." She is finally given words very late in the book when she reports, in a gossipy way, that a servant from Netherfield reportedly ordered a great number of ducks from the butcher, signalling Bingley's return. I found this chapter fascinating since I had never even realized how giving characters a chance at quoted dialogue also signals they have something worth listening to. Can you think of any of her other characters who make quite a few appearances without any or just a very few quotes attributed to them?

I am currently in the middle of the tenth essay, What Games Do Characters Play? With twenty essays in all I need to read an essay a day to finish this challenge by the end of the month.


Since finishing The Wright Brothers, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Alex Crow I have completed my summer reading challenge. Yay! Let's see how many more books I can cram in before Labor Day, the end date of my challenge.
30 books Summer Reading Challenge

30 / 30 books. 100% done!

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