The Sunday Salon: Re-Reading Sense and Sensibility

This week I’ve been re-reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  I’ve made it a tradition to  re-read an Austen novel every year.  In 2011 it was Pride and Prejudice (read my review), and last year I re-read Emma.

I first read Sense and Sensibility in 2007, and it was my personal tipping point in becoming a Janeite.  My review appears on my old LiveJournal blog, here, but I have to admit it doesn’t say much.  Or maybe I’m just catching more details this time around.  I know the basic plot already, so I can focus more on Austen’s characters and wit.

The men seem to get short shrift.  Elinor and Marianne’s brother John falls victim to his manipulative wife and fails to provide for his mother and sisters, then makes nice later, probably realizing what a jerk he’s been.  Willoughby is a cad, and we know it, but much of his bad behavior occurs off-stage.  And Edward Ferrars: what does Elinor see in him, anyway?  He’s just sort of “there,” someone Elinor has pined after for some time.  But why?  Colonel Brandon is one of the few men with depth, although honestly I’m not sure if that’s because of Austen’s writing, or Alan Rickman’s portrayal in the 1995 film adaptation.

The women fare better, although my imagination is once again enhanced by memories of Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.  Elinor is a rock, almost too much so.  She is entrusted with a secret that is actually devastating news to her personally, and yet she sucks it up and keeps the secret for four months.  She doesn’t even tell her mother or sister.  I could not do this.  And while she’s dealing with that, Marianne experiences personal trauma of her own, and there’s Elinor at her side providing comfort.

If Elinor is one of those common-sense, no-nonsense women, Marianne is her opposite.  Emotional and somewhat frivolous, Marianne goes where her mood takes her.  Left to her own devices, she would fail to check herself in conversation, and blurt out whatever comes to mind.  When Marianne is dealing with trauma, everybody knows it.

And then there are the ancillary female characters.  My favorite is Mrs Jennings, a busybody who gets it wrong more often than not.  Austen sets up a hilarious moment in chapter 30-something, where Mrs Jennings overhears half of a conversation between Elinor and Brandon, and jumps to conclusions.  Mrs Jennings attempts to discuss what she thinks she heard, and Elinor answers based on what really happened. Hilarity ensues.  This type of comedy is Austen at her finest.

As I write this, I’m actually only about 80% of my way through the novel, about to begin Chapter 41.  I know the ending will be satisfying, as Austen’s novels always are.  So I think I’ll brew a cup of tea and get back to it!

Who is your favorite character in Sense and Sensibility?

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The Sunday Salon: A “Surprising” Classic

This month The Classics Club posed a question to its members:

“What classic has most surprised you so far, and why?”

I had to think about this one for a while.  “Surprises” come in many forms: plot, characters, writing style, enjoyment, etc.  On my Classics Club list are books I enjoyed, disappointing books, and others that weren’t what I expected.  But as I scrolled through the list, one stood out as the biggest surprise so far:  The Warden, by Anthony Trollope.  My review opens with this:

This review could be subtitled, “In which I develop a fondness for Anthony Trollope.”  A couple of years ago I gave up on Barchester Towers, and while I had my reasons I never felt good about it.  This time I decided to start at the beginning of Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, and I’m glad I did.

Bookish friends told me  The Warden was a quiet novel, and an important introduction to Trollope’s fictional county of Barsetshire.   I was helped along by a tutored read on LibraryThing, which explained the intricacies of the 19th century English church and other important context.  But mostly I fell in love with Septimus Harding, the title character.  He was such a dear man, and nearly done in by unjust accusations.  While my love for Septimus came as a surprise, perhaps more surprising was how much I loved the entire book, and how it set me on a course to read the complete Chronicles of Barsetshire.  I read Barchester Towers in December (read my review), and I’ll be reading the third novel, Doctor Thorne, next month.

I love discovering new authors, and when they are classics, so much the better!

What’s your most surprising classic read?

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The Sunday Salon: My February Book Stack

Hello fellow readers and welcome to another Sunday Salon.  I woke this morning to see a couple of inches of snow on the ground, and it’s very cold outside.  But yesterday, everybody’s favorite groundhog predicted an early spring, so I’m sure this will all pass quickly.  🙂

The groundhog also reminded me that it’s a new month, and time to share what I plan to read in the coming weeks.  I admit, I didn’t stick to my January plans, but I enjoyed the diversion and still read 5 books, including one short story collection, getting my short story project off to a good start.

For February, I’ve again assembled 5 books (one of which is not pictured, since it will come from the library).

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Taking a closer look:

  • Mrs Somebody Somebody, by Tracy Winn:  These are February’s short stories.  I’ll probably start this tonight before bed (and after Downton Abbey!)
  • Sovereign, by C.J. Sansom:  This is the third book in the Matthew Shardlake mystery series, set in the time of King Henry VIII. This one is a 660-page chunkster, but easy reading, and I’m about 1/3 of the way through it.  It was just what I needed after finishing the rather bleak Patrick Melrose Novels this week (read my review).
  • Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen:  A couple of years ago I re-read Pride and Prejudice, and then decided to re-read one of Jane Austen’s novels every February.  Why February?  Well, mostly because it’s such a bleak month and Austen cheers me up enormously.  It’s also my birthday month, so it’s like giving myself a present.  I have all of her works on my Kindle (the red volume in the stack).
  • Full House, by M.J. Farrell (Molly Keane): This is one of my favorite Virago authors, and this book is also on my Classics Club list.

And finally, when I’m ready I will visit my local library for:

  • Family Matters, by Rohinton Mistry:  I loved Mistry’s A Fine Balance, and have meant to read more of his work ever since.  Family Matters was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, so I expect good things.

So that’s it.  I’m off to get the coffee started and enjoy the rest of the weekend.  How about you?

What are you planning to read this month?
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The Sunday Salon: My Best-laid Plan has Gone Astray

Well, what can I say?  Three books into my January book stack, I careened off in a different direction.  I rang in the new year reading Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle, which was a delightful way to begin her centenary year (here’s my review).  I also started The Progress of Love by Alice Munro, my first book for this year’s short story project.  I’ve enjoyed reading the stories at bedtime, a bit here and there — it’s better than tackling them all at once.

Then I began the third book on my stack, Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose Novels.  I have an omnibus edition of  four novels, and originally planned to read only the first, Never Mind.  But it was short, and intriguing.  The storyline was difficult, so I can’t say I liked it exactly, but I wasn’t ready to move on to something else, either.  So I kept going.

And then a weird thing happened:  I looked at the other books I planned to read — all Orange Prize nominees from a decade ago — and couldn’t get excited about any of them.  This is very strange, because the Orange Prize (now the Women’s Prize) is one of my favorite literary prizes!  I’ve selectively worked my way through the back list, but I’m wondering if I’ve reached a point of diminishing marginal returns with those older works?  In any case, my lack of enthusiasm caused me to abandon Orange January for the first time.  I feel bad about that, but I blame it on poor planning and a lack of research into the titles I’d chosen.   I’m determined to return to my lovely Oranges in July, and this time I’ll probably choose more recent books.

So there I was reading the second Patrick Melrose novel, Bad News, when I listened to a Guardian Books podcast which included a preview of books to be released in 2013. I got really excited about new releases from Kate Atkinson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Margaret Atwood.  Atwood’s novel, MaddAddam, is a third in a trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake.  Now, I read Oryx and Crake last year, and bought a copy of The Year of the Flood at about the same time, but then allowed it to languish on my shelves.  Suddenly I had to read it right away, so after finishing Bad News I picked up The Year of the Flood.  It’s an interesting book, one I wish I’d read immediately after Oryx and Crake because I think the connections between the two would be more obvious.  But I’m still enjoying it, and I’ll return to Patrick Melrose when I’ve finished. 

I’m actually rather pleased with myself for deviating from my plan.   Back in the days when I was doing a lot of reading challenges, I planned my reads months in advance to make sure I met my goals.  It’s taken me a couple of years to develop a more spontaneous approach, choosing books that fit my mood.  So while I feel bad about abandoning a favorite literary prize, I’ve loved reading more on a whim.  I hope this becomes a trend!

Have you had any unexpected reading experiences this week?

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The Sunday Salon: My Classics Club “Clunker” of 2012

Welcome to another Sunday chez Musings. I’ve been thinking about The Classics Club January Meme, which asks:

What is the best book you’ve read so far for The Classics Club — and why? Be sure to link to the post where you discussed the book! (Or, if you prefer, what is your least favorite read so far for the club, and why?)

This is perfect for the new year, one of those “take stock of where you’ve been” kind of questions.  For those not familiar with The Classics Club, it works like this: members commit to read and blog about at least 50 classics over 5 years.  I read 19 books in 2012, so I am well on my way (a list of the 19 titles appears at the end of this post).  But because of the Club and the influence of other classics bloggers, I keep adding to my list!  It now stands at 64 books.  At my current pace it shouldn’t be a problem to read 45 books over the next 4 years, but then again I’ll probably keep adding to the list, too.  No big deal, as long as I’m enjoying the ride, right?

Now, about the January question.  I enjoyed nearly all the books I read last year, and there was no runaway favorite.  But there’s definitely one that didn’t work for me:  Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers (read my review).  This was her last work, and in fact she died before finishing it.  My edition was published in 1993 as a finished work, based on research and notes.  The premise was interesting — American women in the British marriage market — but the characters lacked the depth of Lily Bart (The House of Mirth) or Undine Spragg (The Custom of the Country).  Edith Wharton is one of my favorite authors, so it was especially disappointing to read something that just wasn’t up to scratch.

Did you read any classics last year?  Did you have a favorite, or a “clunker”?

Here’s the complete list of classics read in 2012 (visit my Classics Club page for my 5-year list and links to reviews):

  1. Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple
  2. Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, by Ruby Ferguson
  3. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, by Julia Strachey
  4. A Wreath of Roses, by Elizabeth Taylor
  5. Poor Caroline, by Winifred Holtby
  6. The Rising Tide, by Molly Keane
  7. The Vet’s Daughter, by Barbara Comyns
  8. A Game of Hide and Seek, by Elizabeth Taylor
  9. The Sleeping Beauty, by Elizabeth Taylor
  10. Angel, by Elizabeth Taylor
  11. The Soul of Kindness, by Elizabeth Taylor
  12. The Wedding Group, by Elizabeth Taylor
  13. Blaming, by Elizabeth Taylor
  14. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
  15. The Warden, by Anthony Trollope
  16. Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope
  17. The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton
  18. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
  19. Loitering with Intent, by Muriel Spark

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The Sunday Salon: My January Book Stack

How was the first week of 2013 for you?  I was lucky to be off work the entire week, plus the week before, so it’s been an enjoyable time spent with family.   I also finished my first book of 2013, and my first by Angela Thirkell: Pomfret Towers (read my review).  Earlier in the week, I published my 2013 Reading Resolutions which include, among other goals, an intention to read more from my stacks, and to read more short stories.  Not surprisingly, my January book stack has both of these goals in mind:

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

Here’s what I’m planning to read this month:

  • The Progress of Love, by Alice Munro:  this collection of short stories is now in a prominent place on my nightstand and I’ve read a bit each night before going to sleep.  So far this seems like a good way to get through my many unread volumes of short fiction.
  • Some Tame Gazelle, by Barbara Pym:  If 2012 was all about Elizabeth Taylor, 2013 will be all about Barbara Pym, as this time it’s her centenary year.  Once again, the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group is celebrating the occasion by reading one book per month, in order of publication.  Some Tame Gazelle was Pym’s debut novel, so of course it’s our January read.  I started it yesterday and am enjoying it a lot already.
  • Never Mind, by Edward St. Aubyn:  the book shown is actually an omnibus of his four Patrick Melrose novels.  Never Mind is the first, and a fifth novel has since been published.  The fourth, Mother’s Milk, was nominated for the Booker Prize several years ago.  It sounded interesting, but as much as I wanted to check another prize nominee off my list, I couldn’t bring myself to do it without reading the first books in the series.
  • Ice Road, by Gillian Slovo: this is an Orange Prize nominee from back in 2004.  I picked this up from a friend who recently culled her shelves.  It’s Orange January, so why not read it now?

Speaking of Orange January, there are two other titles I’d like to read this month, which I’ll borrow from my local library.  Both are from the 2002 short list:

  • A Child’s Book of True Crime, by Chloe Hooper
  • No Bones, by Anna Burns

To be honest, I’m not sure I will get to both, especially given Ice Road‘s chunkiness, and having to return to the “real world” of my job  on Monday.  Wish me luck!

What books are you looking forward to reading this month?
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The Sunday Salon: 2012 Year in Review

2012 is rapidly coming to a close and, like book bloggers everywhere, I’m taking stock of the year.  I’ve spent the past week reflecting on my reading, and doing some housekeeping here on the blog.  I added to my Best of Musings page, made sure all my other pages were up-to-date, and then decided to spice things up a bit with some new design elements.  If you’re using a feed reader, I hope you’ll click-through and have a look!

Now about my 2012 reading.  I finished 64 books (and might reach 65), fewer than in any of the past five years, but for good reasons which I’ve already explained.  And as my book-blogging buddy Rebecca from Love at First Book reminded me in a recent comment,

I also don’t think you should be hard on yourself with the AMOUNT of books being read this year. Take a look at those books and think: Were they challenging? Did you learn things from them? Did you enjoy reading those books? Did you read when you could or was there more time you could have dedicated to reading?

It’s about quality, not quantity. I could read 300 zombie/romance YA books, one per day almost, but that wouldn’t fulfill my requirements of reading actual books.

Yes Rebecca, I’ve read some really great books — books that delighted me, challenged me, and provided insight.  These are my Top 5, all of which garnered 5-star ratings (click on links for my reviews):

When I look back on my 2012 Reading Resolutions, I find a bit of a mixed bag.  I wanted to read more books from my stacks than I acquire, and I did better at this than in earlier years.  I added 64 books to my library, not including reference works like knitting books.  This is, coincidentally, the same number of books I read.  28 of my 64 acquisitions were Virago Modern Classics, which I regard as a collection, something slightly different from a run-of-the-mill TBR pile (if you sense me rationalizing here, you’re probably right).  25 of my 64 books read came from my shelves, and 12 from my Virago Modern Classics collection.  I don’t want to over-complicate the math here (!!), so I think I’ll just declare this reading resolution a draw.  Are we all OK with that?

Moving on.  I completely failed to read more non-fiction; in fact, I read only 6 books.  They were good reads, too:  books like The Hare with Amber Eyes (review), and The Worst Hard Time (review).  I had good intentions to read more, but often found I just wasn’t in the mood.  I’m not giving up on nonfiction entirely, but I now known I just have an overwhelming preference for fiction.

Moving on, again. I feel good about my remaining two resolutions!! I continued making progress on all reading projects,reading loads of prize winners/nominees and classics, including Virago Modern Classics.  I also increased interaction with the book blogging community.  This came about through The Classics Club, Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and the Estella Society’s Book Blogging Buddy System, which is how I “met” Rebecca.

And finally, there was the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary.  This began in the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group, but in a burst of new year enthusiasm I expanded beyond LT, recruiting other bloggers to chat about one of Taylor’s novels each month.  I had so much fun collaborating with the hosts, and of course reading the novels and talking about them with other readers.  I’m also thrilled at how many people have discovered Taylor because of this event.  It was one of my most satisfying reading projects, ever!

Well, that’s the year that was.  And of course I’m already geared up for 2013.  I’ll be back in the coming days with more resolutions to keep or break as I see fit.  🙂  And I’ll tell you about a personal long-term project, too.  See you soon!

What were the highlights of your reading year?

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The Sunday Salon: More books than I could possibly read in December …

What, November’s almost over?  It seems like I just posted my November book stack, and I haven’t read as much as I thought I would.  As I write this, I’ve only finished 2 books this month:  The Vet’s Daughter, which was just OK for me (read my review), and Barchester Towers, which I really enjoyed (read my review).  Mind you, the Trollope was more than 500 pages, so twice the size of my typical reads.  I’m working my way through Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, and should finish it before the month is out.  But there’s no denying this month has been slow, and that I’ve read far fewer books this year than in any year since I began blogging.

So now I’m in a little panic about my year-end reading.  There are so many books I’d planned to read this year and even with a couple of weeks off work at year-end, there’s just no way I can read them all!  I have to keep telling myself there is no success or failure, it’s just about enjoying the books I read, and I’ve truly enjoyed my 2012 reading.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday I took stock of the situation and came up with a list of books I’d most like to read before the year is out.  There are a couple of books from my November stack that I’ll carry over into December.  Here’s the stack I’ll be working my way through, subject to mood swings.  🙂

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

  • The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman:  OK, so I meant to read this in November, around Remembrance Day.  But I was dealing with some real life issues where lighter fare was in order, so I kept setting it aside.  I’m not sure it will suit my mood this holiday season, but I’ll keep it on the stack as a reminder of my good intentions.
  • Blaming, by Elizabeth Taylor:  this is the last readalong in the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary celebration.  Since we are reading chronologically, it’s also the last novel she published.  I’ll be sad to say “good-bye” to dear Liz, but I have her short story collections to look forward to.  I’ll pick this one up as soon as I finish The Buccaneers.
  • Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters:  I’ve had this one on my shelves for ages, and know it will be a fun read.
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal:  my husband received this from a friend recently and was quite keen on it.  We don’t often read the same books, but he knows what I like and says I’ll like this.  I like the idea of a shared reading experience with him!
  • American Rust, by Philipp Meyer:  another one that’s been languishing on my TBR pile far too long.  I’m feeling pretty good about having read several from my stacks this year, and I hope to count this one in my final tally.

There are also a couple of books I will borrow from the library:

  • The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng: this Booker Prize nominee is another carryover from November, and one I will definitely read in December, probably right after Blaming.
  • Family Matters, by Rohinton Mistry:  I loved Mistry’s A Fine Balance and have eyed this one ever since.  It was nominated for the Booker Prize as well, and so will fulfill another of my reading goals.

Given my slower pace this year, I’ll be extremely surprised if I get through all of these in December, but I’m excited about giving it a try!

Are there any books you’re hoping to read before the end of the year?
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The Sunday Salon: Elizabeth Taylor Centenary Giveaway!!

I am very happy to be hosting a giveaway today, as part of a  year-long Elizabeth Taylor Centenary Celebration!!

British novelist Elizabeth Taylor was an intensely private person, so very little was known about her life until Nicola Beauman published her biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor.  It is a comprehensive account of her life and career.  Published after her death and with her husband’s consent, the biography reveals details of her private life and the parallels with her novel are obvious.  The biography is somewhat controversial, in that Taylor’s children  objected to certain themes, but despite that I found it an invaluable companion to Taylor’s novels and short stories.

I read this book back in March, and in my review I wrote, “All too often, biographies are dry, factual accounts.  Nicola Beauman’s thorough research infused this biography with real people and emotion.”  This book is a must-have for any Elizabeth Taylor fan, and makes great reading even if you are just getting to know Taylor and her work.  It would also make a great gift!

Win a copy of The Other Elizabeth Taylor, by Nicola Beauman

One lucky person will receive a copy of The Other Elizabeth Taylor.  It could be you!  Here are the necessary details:

  • The giveaway contest is open until 5:00 PM (US EST) on Friday, November 23, 2012.
  • The giveaway contest is open to anyone in the world.
  • To enter, please leave a comment answering the question:
    • If you could ask Elizabeth Taylor a question, what would it be?
  • The winner will be chosen at random and announced on my blog. I will also notify the winner by email, and request a shipping address for the book.
  • Bonus!  if you’d like to send the book as a gift, I will wrap it and enclose a small card inscribed with your message!

Good luck!!

Comments are welcome, even if you don’t want the book. Just let me know not enter your name into the drawing.

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The Sunday Salon: This Week’s Reading

Hello Saloners!  I hope you’re enjoying the weekend, whatever it has brought you.

It’s been a busy week chez Musings, as I spent most of it out of town.  My mom moved into a retirement community, and I was on hand to assist with last-minute preparations and see her through the process.  Everything went fine and she is very happy with her new place.  My dad is in a different facility due to his care needs, but I’m hopeful we can bring them closer together in the coming months.  Still, this week marked a major milestone for them and I’m glad we got through it.

So as you can imagine, I didn’t read as much as I do in a normal week.  I spent more time knitting, and made great progress on the second sock in a pair I’m really looking forward to wearing.  I also stumbled across a gorgeous yarn shop just blocks from Mom’s apartment, and acquired supplies for several future projects.  If you’re ever in Cincinnati, be sure to check out Hank, a Yarn Boutique — I know I’ll be back every time I visit my parents.

But back to books … I managed to carve out a little time each day, and lots of time during my flights, to read Barchester TowersThis chunkster is perfect for the Kindle; it would have been a pain to carry around otherwise.  I’m about 40% through the book, and enjoying it very much.  Trollope has a great wit and loves to poke fun at the clergy and church politics.  I’m reading this as part of a tutored read on LibraryThing, where another member explains a lot of the societal background which is very helpful and interesting.

Because I’ve read a little ahead of the tutored read, I decided to pick up Barbara Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter last night.  I’m not very far along yet, but I’m intrigued.  I’ve heard this book described as intense with some comic / ironic elements, and so far it’s living up to that description.

The week ahead promises to be a busy one, as I catch up at work after my time away.  But then I’m off during Thanksgiving week, and am looking forward to travel-free family time.

Reading anything interesting this week?

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