Monday, December 11, 2017

Books I Read in November

Well, hi there! The semester has ended (kind of, I still have some grading to finish up this week), and life has finally opened up some space, and all I can say is yay for winter break! I understand we're nearly halfway through December, but indulge me a moment and let me regale you with all the books I read in November. Seriously, considering what a busy month it was, I'm shocked at how these numbers keep adding up. My commute time is just golden, sanity-saver, most wonderful me-time ever! Audio books are the best!

So, you'll notice a theme in my November reading. I got on a classics kick. Specifically, a Jane Austen kick, and I went ahead and reread almost her entire oeuvre (except for Northanger Abbey, which, weirdly enough, was the only one I had to put on hold and wait for, I'm listening to it now). I started with Sense and Sensibility in October, so check that month's round-up for my thoughts there.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Every time I re-read this, I seem to alternate between loving it or being super annoyed by it. This was a loving it re-read. I mean, Lizzy really is just super delightful. I've also decided that I need to rewatch all the versions of this movie that I own this break. Who's up for joining me?

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Oh, I have such a special place in my heart for this one. I loved Anne Elliot so much the first time I read this (in high school, I think) because I related to her so much. I just knew I was going to be the 27 year-old single old maid like her (seriously surprised everyone, myself included, when I ended up getting married at 21). Also, I just love this story of faithful love, even through time and distance and hurt and disappointment. It's just so sweet. Although admittedly, the rest of the characters in this book can be downright annoying.

Emma by Jane Austen

Confession: I've never really liked Emma. I know a lot of people who consider this one their favorite Austen novel, but seriously? Emma is a spoiled, silly, self-centered, classist heiress who screws up Harriet's life in nearly unforgivable ways. Admittedly, she grows up and learns her lessons and is no doubt far from the worst human being ever, but I just don't love her much. I do love Mr. Knightly. Quite a bit. But I also must confess that this time around, their age difference bothered me a whole lot more than it has in the past. My husband has this formula (I'm sure someone else made it up first) about age difference in relationships that goes like this: Half the age of the guy plus seven. That's as young as he can go without being creepy. So, the formula for a twenty-four year old guy is 24/2 = 12 + 7 = 19. A 24 year-old guy can date a 19 year-old girl, but no younger. Mr. Knightly is 37. His formula is 37/2 = 18.5 + 7 =  25.5. Emma is 21. That's just not close enough to be kosher, in my opinion. And yeah, yeah, I know times have changed and whatever, but it's that line at the end, when he talks about how he's loved her since she was 13 (and he was 29) that just totally creeps me out. Ew. Anyway, I need to go watch the movie again as a palate cleanser, because at least the actors don't look that different in age, which makes me feel better about the whole thing.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

This is no one's favorite Austen, and it's easy to see why. Fanny is a bit sickly, a bit (actually, a lot) timid, a bit goody-two-shoes, and just nowhere near as lovable as Lizzy. Also, the romance in this book is just so... unsatisfying. First off, he's her first cousin (once again, times have changed, but still just a little creepy for modern tastes). Second, (*spoiler alert*) he spends 98% of the book seriously in love with someone else, and only comes to admire our heroine in the last 2 to 3 pages. Like I said, unsatisfying. At one point, I found myself wishing that they'd just both end up with the other two love interests because both those romances were at least interesting and full of charming moments (even if they both had undeserving, immoral characters). However, knowing all that and going in with low expectations, I was actually able to enjoy this one quite a bit more as a re-read. I especially found the chapters on the play quite fascinating, as I've spent so much of this semester thinking/researching/writing about audience reception and cultural acceptance of drama in my Shakespeare class.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

After being disappointed with A Fatal Grace in October, I decided to plunge on this third book in the series just to give it one more chance. And this book really redeemed things for me! It was a much better mystery for me, I was kept guessing right up until the end, and was very surprised by who ended up being the killer. I also appreciated how some of the larger narrative arc resolved itself here. While this book redeemed the series for me, and I am interested in going on, I do need to take a break from murder mysteries for a while (I can only handle so much "cozy murder"). But as a note, this would be a fantastic October read. It takes place over Easter, but it contains all sorts of good Halloweeny things: haunted houses, seances and ghosts, the victim being scared to death, etc.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

I used to be a huge Dickens fan back in middle/high school. I read quite a fair number of his books, but I never got around to Oliver Twist. I think this was mostly based on the fact that it sounded depressing (orphans, ugh), and also because I felt like I just knew the story already (I think I'd seen the musical). Anyway, after my Austen kick, I was in the mood to continue in the classic lit vein (I've just really been in the mood for good, beautiful writing, which you just can't guarantee with more modern stuff), and I decided it's been too long since I've indulged in the convoluted sentence structure of the Victorian master, so I decided to find a good Dickens novel to sink into. This was the one available from my library at the time, so I decided to give it a go. And I was quite bored for the first few chapters because, yes, it was terribly depressing, and yes, I knew most of the story. But then! Then plot twists! And new characters I'd not heard of before! Turns out there's a lot more to this story that gets left out of all the retellings (makes sense, you've got to cut something), and I found myself suitably intrigued and rather enjoying the story. I still don't think it's Dickens best (I'm still baffled about why this one seems to be so popular compared to some of his others), but I did like it.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

My one foray into contemporary lit! This one is so hot right now. I read Ng's Everything I Never Told You a while back, and liked it well enough, so I decided this one was probably worth a look into. And I liked it, but I can't say I loved it. There were some really fun characters (and some really, really unlikable characters), and there were some really interesting/thought-provoking/heart-wrenching situations around the theme of motherhood. And it was decently well-written. But the themes felt a little too-heavy handed, and the plot was just a little too contrived. Or maybe it was just the fact that I don't buy that every person who lives the "American suburban dream" is all miserable and unhappy and repressing their true heart's desires. Anyway, still good, and still a general recommend if you like contemporary literary fiction that leans to the depressing.

Wow, seven books! What a fabulous month of reading for me. If only I could type blog posts on my commute too...

P.S. Did you enjoy my husband's guest post? Isn't he just a fabulous writer? I really ought to have him on here more often. Although I don't quite share his enthusiasm for board games, I'm learning to love them more (for the sake of our marriage), and I love that he has something he is so passionate about. Nerdy people are the most interesting people, in my opinion. And seriously, some of those games he mentioned are so fun (Camel Up is my personal favorite), so check them out!


  1. I'll admit, I'm embarrassed I've only read three Jane Austen novels myself (P&P, Emma, and Persuasion), but I'll at least be remedying things soon and reading S&S. After reading your review of Mansfield Park, I'm not even sure I want to try it! Ha ha. (I obviously didn't know much about the story!) And honestly, I feel like having graduated in English and taught Language Arts, I SHOULD be more of a Dickens fan, but beyond A Christmas Carol, I haven't been wowed by his stuff. I probably just need to give him a better shot though, seeing as how I've only ever read Great Expectations other than CC by him.

    Anyway, this makes me want to dive back into reading classics again---I've read waaaaaay too many contemporary novels this year!

  2. I'm very impressed you made it through all these classics in a month! My favorite Jane Austen's are Persuasion and Sense& Sensibility. Have you read Little Doritt by Dickens? I remember loving the mini series, but I haven't read it.