Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Twitterature" post to share what I've been reading.
What Matters in Jane Austen?
Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
by John Mullan
The title's a little misleading: these aren't really puzzles but short essays on interesting themes in Jane Austen's books, like "Which Important Characters Never Speak in the Novels?" and "Do We Ever See the Lower Classes?" This well-researched and entertaining book could be read for sheer enjoyment or used as a way into a deeper study of Austen's works. It's great for quizzes, too:
- Who is the only married woman in Austen's novels who regularly calls her husband by his first name?
- Who is the only woman in Austen's novels who marries a man younger than herself?
- Who is the only character who dies in the course of an Austen novel after also appearing in scenes in the book (as opposed to just being talked about, like Frank Churchill's aunt in Emma)?
(See answers at the end of this post.)
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
After seeing this novel mentioned and reviewed all over the place for the past year, I finally read it. It is about the love affair between Hazel and Augustus, two teenagers with cancer who meet at a support group. The characters are original and unsentimental, and there are some profound insights about what makes a life worth living and a legacy worth leaving. Still, the book feels way too clever at times. Virtually every time the characters speak they make cool, quotable remarks -- but what looks cool and quotable on the page can be very difficult to imagine coming out of a seventeen-year-old's mouth. For instance: "I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you." (Whoa.) It's no surprise that a movie based on this book is coming out soon; it's tailor-made for the big screen with its dramatic speeches and heart-tugging plot.
The Thorny Grace of It
and Other Essays for Imperfect Catholics
by Brian Doyle
I've read and enjoyed a number of Doyle's short essays in literary journals like The Sun and Ruminate; this book brings together more than fifty of them. If you're not Catholic (as I am not), you might think, "This book will be of no interest to me whatsoever." Think again. Doyle has a unique gift for giving both fleeting moments and significant events a sense of dignity and grace -- whether he is describing a little girl's attendance at Mass before she has major surgery, recalling a bus driver's gentle response to the death of a passenger, honouring two teachers who died in the the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, or lamenting the utter waste of Osama bin Laden's life. Doyle's writing is funny, moving, and hopeful, and I find myself wanting to read more slowly just to savour it. Here's a short excerpt from the essay "first draft of the first letter to the corinthians":
"Love never fails, even in those moments when we are glaring at each other in the kitchen, which there have been a few of those moments, and there will be a few more, because love isn't a placid sea, love is a verb, love is human, which means flawed and difficult and complex and startling and wonderful and painful. Faith abides, for what else can we do except leap into the unknown, take a flyer on what might be, shoot the moon, believe in the unbelievable, steer by the tumult in our hearts? And hope abides, for we are creatures milled from hope, we see the substance of things hoped for, we see dimly what might be gleaming and brilliant on the road ahead if only we can stride forward through the thickets. And love abides, for if we have not love we are nothing and nowhere. But the greatest of these is love. You know this and I know this, and even when we forget it we know it someplace deeper than words, deeper than understanding, deeper than we are. There are many names for the One but of these the greatest is love."
Mary Musgrove (Persuasion), Charlotte Lucas (Pride and Prejudice), Dr. Grant (Mansfield Park)