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A Tale of Two Cities Read-Along: Start Reading!

Having the worst of times figuring our what this is all about? See the master post!

#1Tale2CitiesButton

Have you started reading? I’m on page 12, so there’s plenty of time to catch up. As we get down to business, let’s check in on a couple of things:

Editions
Editions abound for a classic like this, that’s been around so long and has been assigned reading for countless students. The ebook selection was overwhelming, so I decided to go old school with the clothbound Penguin Classics. It’s got a nice weight to it, and a built-in bookmark, and lots of introductions, appendices, and notes. It also bit my two-year-old’s thumb today, according to him. Please note that I did comfort him before grabbing the camera.

What edition are you reading?

 

Henry reviews TOTC: "My thumb. Ow. Don't like book."

Henry reviews TOTC: “My thumb. Ow. Don’t like book.”

Read-Alongers (Readers-Along?)
The master post is updated with the list of participants, but I wanted to give some shout-outs today, because there are some awesome bloggers joining us!

  1. Tony: My brother-in-law. Please address any complaints about book choice to him.
  2. Cait at 1227 Miles: My sister. Oh and by the way – Cait and Tony are officially engaged as of this weekend! Congrats!
  3. ebookclassics: I love how CJ digs up the most interesting and random tidbits about books. I also love her celebrities in classics series – let’s say we have similar tastes (90s forever.)
  4. Cedar Station: We recently bonded over our love of The House of Mirth. OMG – Wharton read-along next?
  5. Consumed by Ink: A serious reader of CanLit and big supporter of book blogs – she writes the best comments!
  6. Romanoir: A new-to-me blogger who has a seriously intimidating Classics Club list, heavy on pre-1600 lit.
  7. Amanda’s Weekly Zen: New-to-me blog, but based on the recent post of Wuthering Heights quotes which contained many of my favs, I think we’ll get along juuuust fine.
  8. Doing Dewey: Best blog title and concept I’ve seen in a while. Reading her way through the Dewey decimal system!
  9. Jayne’s Books: Super prolific reader and Moby-Dick read-along alumni.
  10. Reading in Winter: Partly responsible for this blog being what it is today. Yay Kristilyn!
  11. Lost Generation Reader: A celebrity in the classic-lit-bloggers world. Really excited to have her AND her Dickens action figure joining us!

Tales Heard Round the Internet
This is a regular feature with news and notes about A Tale of Two Cities or Mr. Dickens. Today, I found out that the ubiquity of “A Tale of Two Cities” as a catchy title makes it real hard to do a proper Google search. I did manage to find out that The Invisible Woman was released on DVD in Canada last week. This looks like something I need to watch immediately. Psst, CJ, have you done Ralph Fiennes in your Celebrities in Classics yet?

Happy reading, and see you next Monday for our first check-in!

The Afterword Reading Society: All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu

allournamesI mentioned The Afterword Reading Society on the blog the other day and was inundated with questions (two people asked me questions.) I’ve experienced some confusion myself, so today, to paraphrase Weird Al, we’re going to dig deep and peel back the layers and find out what goes on in this secret Society.

First of all, The Afterword is The National Post’s book section, and they describe The Afterword Reading Society like this:

Books coverage generally focuses on writers; this is a page about readers. Specifically, it’s about the readers we ask to respond to a new novel each Tuesday. If you’d like to read with us, sign up at theafterword.ca

When you sign up, you will receive weekly-ish emails, either inviting you to read the next selection, or, to answer another bookish question. Those emails are signed off by Afterword editor Mark Medely, who assures me that they randomly select 25 people to read each week’s book, and do not just taking the first 25 to request, as I suggested – after months of trying, I finally made it when I happened to be in Gmail when the email arrived, and clicked through within 5 seconds.

ARS edit

SUCCESS!

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After Alice by Karen Hofmann

After Alice by Karen Hoffman | Published in 2014 by NeWest Press| Source: Review copy from the publisher

After Alice by Karen Hofmann | Published in 2014 by NeWest Press| Source: Review copy from the publisher

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads
Synopsis:

Having escaped the place in her youth, retired professor Sidonie von Taler returns to her ancestral Okanagan valley orchards still very much in the shadow of her deceased older sister Alice.

As she sifts through the detritus of her family history, Sidonie is haunted by memories of trauma and triumph in equal measure, and must reconcile past and present while reconnecting with the people she left behind.

Karen Hofmann’s debut novel blends a poetic sensibility with issues of land stewardship, social stratification and colonialism. Her eye for period detail and characterization is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin” or Margaret Laurence’s “The Stone Angel,” while her lyrical realization of bygone B.C. pastoralia recalls the work of George Bowering.

The blurb is right: After Alice reminded me of The Stone Angel, big time. This is good, because TSA is one of my favourite books, but it’s also bad, because nothing can really measure up. Eventually, I realized there are enough differences here for After Alice to stand on its own, majorly influenced by Laurence, perhaps, but not derivative.

Where The Stone Angel fascinated me with it portrayal of aging – of a woman aging, specifically, and reverting back to childhood impulsiveness and petulance – After Alice frightened me. Hagar was 90, an age one may or may not reach, but Sidonie is in her 60s, and her stubbornness, her ambivalence towards her nephews and nieces (which reminded me of Hagar’s hate-on for Martin,) the creeping suspicion that she had mattered too little, had left no mark - is too close for comfort.

Sidonie’s retreat to her abandoned childhood home and subsequent illness are very reminiscent of Hagar’s journey into the wilderness. It may just be a coincidence, but I recently read yet another book with the “aging woman wanders into wildness, is stranded, and reflects on life” thing (Malarky, review forthcoming.) Is this becoming a cliche? It is effective though.

There are also shades of The Grapes of Wrath in the plight of the seasonal workers, both necessary and marginal. The reverse colonization, where Japanese labourers are brought in, during Sidonie’s childhood, is contrasted with present-day gentrification.

After Alice isn’t just about aging and pastoral scenes. It’s about importance of relationships, or sometimes, the lack of importance. I was struck by how few words are given to the recounting of Sidonie’s married years. The fact that Sidonie’s married life wasn’t central to her story was unexpected and I don’t know what that says about me, but it certainly conveys that Sidonie is an unconventional character given her age and background.

Hofmann is really effective in revealing the ambivalence in close blood relations – siblings, children, cousins.  The sisters, Alice and Sidonie, especially. After sniping at each other in a way that is horribly recognizable, Alice lets her guard down for just a moment and Sidonie realized she doesn’t know her sister anymore:

“I pity you,” Sidonie says… “because you’re married to Buck, who, everyone knows, is a drunk and a bum, and you’ll always be poor and have black eyes and get fat.”

And then Alice opens her mouth in a sort of grin that is also a snarl, a rictus, and Sidonie sees what Alice has been hiding with her hand, her tight-lipped speech. Both of Alice’s upper eyeteeth are gone, pulled out, and dark spaces agape. Alice is missing teeth. How has this happened?

I was also fascinated by Alice as a mother, disgusted with her deaf child Claire; and how Sidonie related to Claire after Alice was gone, and then, in the present day, how Sidonie placed so many hopes on Claire’s child, teenager Justin. The portrayal of Justin and his two teenage cousins was great. They are at times sulky, entitled and “emo” but then suddenly caring and resourceful. The kids gave this book a hopeful tone that I welcomed, after the slow revealing of Alice’s death and Sidonie’s childhood trauma.

That slow reveal is so well done. Hofmann tells a story over many generations and places and not only makes it coherent, but makes you want, no, need to know more. Not a lot happens in the present, but after the halfway point, actually, right around the point of that excerpt, I needed to know. What happened to Alice?  To Sidonie? Who was to blame? How did they seemingly end up trading fates?

After Alice has the makings of a CanLit classic, with complex characters, heavy themes done with a light touch, and expert pacing. Did I mention that this is Karen Hofmann’s first novel? I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Thank you to NeWest Press for the review copy!

For an amazing review of After Alice, check out Pickle Me This.

A Tale of Two Cities Read-Along: Master Post

Get ready for the best of times and the worst of times, with the whitest and deadest of Dead White Dudes, Mr. Charles Dickens, and his Tale of Two Cities.

#1Tale2CitiesButton

Why A Tale of Two Cities?
My brother-in-law threw down the challenge. Yes, this is exactly how the Moby-Dick read-along came about. I feel like he really wants to be a book blogger, but doesn’t know how to start. Poor guy. Maybe we’ll convert him this year.

I was less than excited about his choice at first. But then I realized that I don’t know if I’ve ever read Dickens, really. I own some books, but I don’t know if I actually read them, or I just think I did because I’ve seen adaptations, or just know the stories because they’re part of our culture. At 33 years old, I think I should know whether I’ve read any Dickens or not, you know? Time to get serious!

And as much as I support things like #readwomen2014 and reading diverse authors and local authors, sometimes, you gotta hand it to the dead white dudes. I understand this Dickens fellow was pretty good at writing.

I actually have no idea what TOTC is about. But with that opening line, and that title, I’m thinking it’s got to be good. Or at least, make for some good mocking.

What do I have to do?
Nobody has to do anything. But it would be super cool if you did some of the following:

  • Sign up by leaving a comment on this post.
  • Grab the button and put it on your blog.
  • Swing by on Mondays for my weekly recaps.
  • If you are so inclined, post your thoughts on your own blog too.
  • Visit other read-alonger’s blogs. I’ll update the list right here in this post.
  • Tweet your thoughts/frustrations/Simpsons references at #1Tale2Cities

When do we start? (Schedule and links to update posts)

  • April 21: Start reading
  • April 28: Book the First ch. 1-6 and Book the Second ch. 1-5
  • May 5: Book the Second ch. 6-16
  • May 12: Book the Second ch. 17-24 and Book the Third ch. 1-3
  • May 19: Read to the end
  • May 26: Wrap up and winner announcement

What’s in it for me?
You knew there would be some swag (bribes.)  I’ll randomly choose one participant to win a sweet TOTC shirt from Out of Print Clothing. For some reason, which I’ll assume is sexism, it’s only available in men’s sizes, but, you know, it’s a t-shirt. I think it’ll be okay. Or you can choose a different shirt, whatever.

totcshirt

If you want even MORE Dickens swag, check out this Book Riot post.

Still not convinced?
How about shout outs in both The Simpsons and Clueless?

“It was the best of times, it was the… BLURST of times? Stupid monkey!” in reference to, of course, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

via lesimpsons.tumblr.com

via lesimpsons.tumblr.com

“It’s like that book I read in the 9th grade that said “’tis a far far better thing doing stuff for other people.’” A reference to “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

via clothesonfilm.com

via clothesonfilm.com

How about Emma Donoghue naming Dickens as her favourite author?

That’s all I got for now. Tell me in the comments, why are you excited to read A Tale of Two Cities?

Who’s Reading Along?

 

In my bed: March 2014

You know you’re in a blogging slump when: a monthly update becomes quarterly. At least I came up with a sassy new name?

Reading has trumped writing lately, and I blame all the wonderful books. In the first three months of 2014, I’ve read three five-star books, one that was ever so close, and many that rate a solid four-stars.

Recommended reading
I’ve read 17 books to date this year. Here are a few that I would recommend to almost anyone.

dadeosorendaVillette Charlotte Brontemadhopebridgeofbeyond

  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. See my guest post over at ebookclassics and get ready to have your mind blown.
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte. Check out me Bronte fangirling here.
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. I knew this one was special after the first 15 pages and was a wreck after the last page. Review to come.
  • Mad Hope by Heather Birrell. Seriously cannot wait to reread this when I review.
  • The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. My favourite of this year so far. As much for the translation as for the author’s work. It’s unbelievable that this was not written in English, because the language just soars.

Reading diverse
It was enlightening to count up the diversity (or lack thereof, sadly) in my reading last year, so I thought I’d track it more often in 2014. Of the 17 books I’ve read so far:

  • 10 written by women
  • 5 written by people of colour
  • 3 written by Dead White Dudes (and just 1 by an Alive White Dude. Hi Todd!)
  • 7 Canadian, 4 American,  4 British,1 Russian, and 1 Caribbean

So, still heavy on Canada/US/UK and heavy on white authors. A work in progress.

Reading local
I read some great local Edmonton books recently. Reviews for these are all to come.

theshoregirlcomebarbariansfolliespast

  • The Shore Girl by Fran Kimmel: Complex and satisfying.
  • Follies Past by Melanie Kerr: Unexpected and authentic.
  • Come Barbarians by Todd Babiak: A cross between Le Carre and Irving.

There are also some great recent and upcoming events in Edmonton:

  • Sadly, Richard Wagamese (author of Indian Horse) couldn’t make it to the Macewan Book of the Year event, so it’s being rescheduled.
  • I attended my very first CanLit Book Club at Jasper Place Library, and Indian Horse was the March pick. I think a full blog post is in order, but I’m so happy to have found this group! Our next book is Emma Donoghue’s Astray. 
  • This week, I’ll be staying up past my bedtime to attend Green Drinks: Local Literature. I’m not sure exactly what will go on, but I’ve been told it involved “literati,” possibly “glitterati,” and also high-fives. I will attempt to take selfies with the likes of Jason Lee Norman (Americas, 40 Below Project), Matt Bowes (NeWest Press), Diana Davidson (Pilgrimage), and Alexis Keilen (13, She Dreams in Red.) There are 24 tickets left as of 10:30 Monday night. Get on it!

What’s next on Reading in Bed
frogmusicredallournamesataleoftwomadameb

  • Guest hosting on Write Reads: I haven’t been much into podcasts until I realized that my gym has free wifi and I can listen to them while I work out. I listened to Write Reads this week, and soon enough, I’ll be guest hosting with Tania and “Kirtles” (that’s what Tania calls him. I don’t know if I get to call him Kirtles right off the bat or not!) with my choice for Canadian New Release month:  Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music.
  • Reading for The Afterword Reading Society: The National Post books section came up with a quasi-book club of it’s own. Each week there’s a new book, and members can request a chance to read. 25 are picked and you get a review copy of the book and a set of questions to fill out. The results are summarized in the paper. I’ve been trying for months and finally got picked to read Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names. One of the questions asks, “what would you ask the author?” I had a real hard time coming up with something more intelligent than “why are you so awesome?” I’ll post all my answers on the blog soon.
  • #1Tale2Cities Readalong: Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is the first readalong I’ve hosted since Moby-Dick. Watch for a sign up post soon! We’ll start reading on April 20th.
  • Madame Bovary Readalong: I feel like living on the edge, so I’m signing up for this readalong the day before it starts. ebookclassics, Cedar Station, and a scandalous heroine? Yeah, I’m in. Sign up here, soon.

How about you, book bloggers and readers? Are you reading diverse or local or anything else we should know about?

 

CORRECTION: Top 6 Alternatives to Traditional Book Clubs

Continued from previous post...

writereads6. Write Reads Podcast
And bookish podcasts in general. It’s super embarrassing that I forgot to include Write Reads, not only because I know co-creator Tania in real life, but because I am appearing on the podcast in May!

The concept is pretty simple: Kurt and Tania choose a Canadian book each month according to a schedule and discuss. I love that their blog lists all the other books mentioned in each podcast, though it’s dangerous for an already overflowing TBR. And I love that they talk about books and authors I’ve never heard of. I mean, I consider myself fairly well read and current, but it’s like there’s this whole other world of CanLit out there that only they can give me access to.

Listeners can and do get involved in book selection, so there is an interactive element. And they write plenty of discussion posts in between podcasts, like this one about a disturbing trend of Canadian writers declining to set their books in Canada.

Here’s their latest podcast, about Nicole Lundrigan’s The Widow Tree. The March pick is Blood by Laurence Hill, which has been sitting on my shelf since October. I suggested that we read Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music in April and you can hear me babble about it sometime in May.

Wondering how I know Tania? Here’s a picture of us from about six years ago:

bellydanceIn addition to being awesomely bookish, Tania is also a belly dancer and instructor. I feel like you need a better look at our costumes:

bellydance2

We will probably be more casually dressed when we record the Frog Music podcast, but you never know.

Anything else I forgot? Do you listen to any literary podcasts? Should I post more of my belly dance pictures? 

Top Five Alternatives to Traditional Book Clubs

photo via etsy.com

photo via etsy.com

I know those “what you think X is, what X actually is” memes are played out and dumb so forgive me:

What book clubs want you to think goes on at book club: Ladies, libations, and literary discussion. Basically this guy’s wet dream.

What you think actually goes on at book club: a bunch of 30-something ladies drink wine, eat snacks, and pretend to have read the book for a few minutes before moving on to more important subjects, like, I dunno, shoes or something.

What actually goes on at book club: I have no idea. I’ve never been to one.

I know traditional book clubs are still a thing. Several people I know (some in real life!) love them. But for those of you who are too lazy to clean your house and/or have trouble interacting with people IRL, there are SO MANY other options. In no particular order:

1. #YegBookClub
The idea for this post came courtesy of blogger Kristen Finlay, who came up with #YegBookClub. It’s very simple, which is why is works so well: each month, an Edmonton-authored book is chosen and a date and time for the chat is set. Read the book, use the hashtag during the chat, and connect with other readers. You can still drink wine and no one has to know that you’re wearing your stayin’-in leggings.

The inaugural #yegbookclub pick was Todd Babiak’s Come Barbarians. I found out about it too late and hadn’t read the book but had fun participating anyway. This will be a regular event for me from now on. I was inspired to start the book that same night (it’s fantastic so far.)

Oh, and the author participated, AND gave a hint about the next book in the series:

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Mini Reviews, Manic Pixie Dream Girl Edition: Another Name for Autumn and Me Before You

Who do you think of when you hear the phrase “manic pixie dream girl?” If you’re my age, it’s probably Natalie Portman. If you’re a little younger, maybe it’s Zooey Deschanel. I don’t have any women’s or film studies cred to back me up, but to me the MPDG is a non-conventional and non-threatening woman-child who exists to teach a hero an Important Lesson. This device is pretty unappealing for obvious reasons.

I’ve thought about the MPDG phenomenon a couple times lately, while reading the American novella Another Name for Autumn and again while reading British blockbuster Me Before You. Both feature quirky, twee heroines, but neither are running around dancing in the rain; they’re both dealing with some fairly heavy stuff.  All the quirkiness with none of the shenanigans! Sounds fun, eh? I don’t hate these books, but I have Issues with the heroines that coloured my reactions.

(Note: for thoughts from someone who DOES know what they’re talking about when it comes to MPDGs, see this article by author Jennifer Quist.)

AnotherNameAnother Name for Autumn by Corrie Greathouse
My rating: 2/5 stars
Goodreads
I won’t paste the Goodreads synopsis here because it wasn’t reflective of the reading experience for me. I see this as a stream-of-consciousness account of a woman dealing with isolation and loss. So far, so good. But the unnamed narrator is a weird combination of Ally McBeal and uber-MPDG Natalie Portman in Garden State and not in a good way (could that possibly ever be in a good way?) She’s forever thinking her quirky, romantic thoughts, and that’s all we get, is her thoughts, relentlessly. Like this:

I wasn’t in love with anyone then but I had this love that was light and spirited and heavy and true and it belonged to someone.

What? And what is it with MPDGs and the rain?

I stopped going outside unless it was raining. When it rains, no one can see that your eyes are filled with years and your heart is full with holes. When it rained, I would sometimes sit outside, hoping my heart would fall silently from the sky again and come back to me.

The writing is all… very much liked the examples above. Oddly childlike and repetitive. It’s all love and hearts and music and fate.

Despite my issues with the character and the writing style, I finished the book in one sitting. It’s not that impressive a feat at 100 pages, but I did stay up past my bedtime. There is something strangely compelling about the writing and it’s rhythm. I was pretty confused at the end. I can barely decide if I liked it or not. If I liked it, it’s because all the stuff I didn’t like was done so well and so consistently, that I couldn’t help myself.

This book being published by a new, small press, there aren’t many other reviews out there, but I would love to see what some of my fellow bloggers think of it. Hit me up if you want my copy, it’s tiny, so I can probably mail it pretty cheap!

Thank you to Black Hill Press for the review copy!

mebeforeyouMe Before You by Jojo Moyse
My rating: 2/5 stars
Goodreads
Synopsis: I’m assuming you know what it’s about, since everyone and their mother is reading it right now.

If any book is screaming for a gif-laden review, it’s this one. I’m at a disadvantage, because a) I’m too lazy to find a bunch of gifs and b) my Kobo died, taking all my annotations with it. It’s telling that almost all my annotations were “Run girl run” or “red flag!” or some variation. This is yet another story of a rich, devastatingly handsome, overbearing/possessive/jealous asshole and a young, poor, aimless woman who is just begging to be told what to do. Fifty shades of are you fucking kidding me with this shit.

Before I rant on, I will say that Moyse is a good writer. No inner goddesses here. The writing flows nicely and the dialogue is really well done. There’s not much to challenge the reader, though. The symbolism is beyond obvious (Lou is literally lost in a maze at one point, like, yes, we get it, she needs to find herself and stuff.) And I do appreciate the subversion of some of the tired romance tropes – Lou’s not a virgin, and Will’s disability means he’s not the typical virile hero.

But Lou. Oh Lou. She’s the one who inspired the title for this post. She’s got MPDG vibes with her cutesy outfits and child-like naivety, but she’s so stuck in a rut that I don’t really understand why either of her romantic interests are into her. It’s also hard to root for her when she ends up in the thrall of Will. I just wanted her to get away from him and into a healthy relationship, like, maybe with a therapist. Don’t even get me started on how all the trauma of being gang raped as a teen is magically gone once she talks to Will about it once for like five minutes. Don’t even.

And Will. So many of my contemporaries are singing his praises on blogs across the land  and I was ready to like him. I didn’t mind that he was an asshole to Lou at first – I kind of didn’t blame him – but did none of the swooning readers notice how he slowly and creepily insinuates himself into Lou’s life and makes her more or less dependent on him? When Will conveniently gives a job to her desperate, unemployed dad, I forget my exact annotation was but it was for sure in all caps. It’s not romantic for a guy to make your entire family financially dependent on him, it’s pathological!

So I found the two characters and their “romance” abhorrent. But the real deal breaker for me came early on, when the premise of the book was revealed, because it’s 100% ridiculous. I guess I won’t go into it just in case, but a lot of the plot is pretty “convenient” (Lou doesn’t own a computer, Will’s parents can outfit an entire annex for a quadriplegic but can’t Google voice recognition software, Will happens to be fabulously rich, etc.)

I know a lot of you loved this book and part of my reaction is due to my heightened expectations. I didn’t hate it quite as much as this review may make you believe, but despite decent writing and an imaginative premise, I didn’t find it much better than any other romance novel I’ve read. 

What do you think of Manic Pixie Dream Girl characters? Do they annoy you as much as they annoy me?

A Very Bronte Blog Post: Villette and A Bronte Burlesque

Do you have a favourite Bronte novel? If not, go read some of their stuff. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Villette Charlotte BronteThe perceptive Rory at Fourth Street Review suggests that many readers identify strongly with either Jane Eyre (Charlotte) or Wuthering Heights (Emily), but not both. I’ve been a Wuthering Heights girl since I read it 17 years ago, but I’ve broadened my Bronte horizons of late: I read my first Anne book, Agnes Grey last fall, I read Charlotte’s Villette last month, and just recently saw a play based on the Bronte’s lives.  I’m still Team Emily, but it’s time for me to give Charlotte her due: Villette is her masterpiece (sorry Jane fans) and she’s the most interesting of the siblings.

I didn’t even get around to reviewing Agnes Grey last year. It definitely had it’s moments, but the biggest impression it left was my wonder at how things were so different in Anne’s time; mostly in terms of the qualifications needed to educate children (be female, be unmarried, have a pulse?) Villette made me wonder about this stuff too, but I also felt the universality of Lucy’s situation. She could be anyone, at any time, not just a 19th century teacher, whereas Agnes was trapped in time. Indeed, if you have ever loved someone more than they love you, you’ll identify with Lucy Snowe.

Villette reminded me of a smaller-scope Middlemarch. Both novels are named for a city and are about the divisions between classes and sexes and have wonderful feminist perspectives. Middlemarch has much more going for it, from politics to academia to satire – so much, in fact, that I’m paralyzed to write a proper review. Villette is more of  a character study – a convincing portrait of Lucy and her world. It’s a tragedy, and at times gothic and romantic. It’s odd in its construction – a straightforward narrative most of the time, but then, BAM, there’s a stream of consciousness account of Lucy’s severe depression. Or a delerious description of Lucy tripping out after being drugged. An anti-Catholic rant. A ghost nun. And so on.

Jane Eyre is great, but it just wasn’t this ambitious or this awesome. I made the mistake of finishing Villette over lunch time at work, and spent that afternoon in a state of bewilderment. I may have said “oh no she DIDN’T” aloud. It’s pretty much the opposite of the satisfying “Reader, I married him,” but to me, the ending was more satisfying for being so ambiguous.

Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne via https://www.facebook.com/sendinthegirls

Send in the Girls in A Bronte Burlesque: Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne via https://www.facebook.com/sendinthegirls

Villette was the perfect preparation for seeing A Bronte Burlesque, a production of local theatre company Send in the Girls. Charlotte is the star, and we first meet her on her deathbed, her siblings having all died years earlier. Villette is never mentioned, and not often referenced (it’s all about Jane Eyre) but dying Charlotte, bitter and alone, put me in mind of Lucy Snow immediately.

In real life, Charlotte was newlywed and pregnant at her death, though this is never mentioned in the play. So, the story is manipulated, but what story isn’t? A Bronte Burlesque is confined to the insular world of the four Bronte siblings: Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell, the underachiever brother who I didn’t even know about till I saw the play.

It’s about exposing (get it?) the real Charlotte, how her ambition drove her to betray her siblings. She’s successful, but haunted by the past. Emily and Anne are laid bare as well – Anne and her jealousy, Emily and her depravity.

I had always wondered about Emily: how did she write so convincingly about obsession and loss, living such a short and isolated life? This play suggests that there was some Flowers in the Attic action going on up at Haworth, which made me question my teenage obsession with Wuthering Heights for a second before realizing this is a work of fiction about another work of fiction and every interpretation is as valid as the next – icky or not.

The burlesque element was fun, and worked well on a metaphorical level – you know, exposure, identity, femininity -but sometimes I would remember that they were supposed to be related and it got a a little weird. Or a lot weird. Seeing Emily throw herself at her own brother to the strains of Radiohead’s “Creep” was one of the more bizarre experiences of my life. This play was not exactly date night material.

The set, music and costumes were gorgeous. I was entertained and I gained a serious appreciation for Charlotte Bronte. And I simply love the fact that there’s a local theatre company doing something like this with literature and history! I never read biographies, but now I’m on the lookout for a good one – maybe Elizabeth Gaskell’s  on Charlotte, or Daphne Du Maurier’s on Branwell.

Tell me, are you Team Emily or Team Charlotte? Is there a Team Anne? Branwell?? 

Book Trailers: They Aren’t All Awful

The first time I saw a book trailer, I thought it was a joke. Surely, this wasn’t actually part of the marketing strategy for this big name author, working with a big name publisher? It was, though. And most book trailers are just as bad. Cheesy word art, stock film, and low production values abound.

Yeah, I’m biased – I like my literature and everything associated with it to be quiet. I have a fairly high sensitivity to noise and my two and four year olds use it all up, often before 8:00 am. I’ve never even listened to an audio book. But you know, I’m hip, I’m cool, and I can accept that book trailers are a thing; but if they’re to be a thing, can’t they be a thing done well?

For a deeper analysis of what’s gone wrong with book trailers, check out this from Book Riot or this from The New Yorker. Read on for a few of my book trailer picks: the good, the bad and… the Franzen. Read more

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