“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me” C.S. Lewis, 1898–1963
“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me” C.S. Lewis, 1898–1963
“Read in order to live.” Gustave Flaubert, 1821–1880
As the air gets chillier, the days shorter, and the memory of summer begin to gather in a miasma I often find myself reflecting on more light-hearted times as I physically and mentally prepare for the short, cold days of winter. Often melancholia sets in as the leaves begin to turn and finally fall; a reminder that all care-free delights must end. But even as the earth prepares itself to sleep there is a sense of promise, an assurance of future renewal. Since I, myself, lack the talent to capture the essence of what autumn means to me I offer an ode from my favorite poet of the Romantic period, John Keats.
John Keats, 1795–1821
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer had o’er-brimm’d their clammy shells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind:
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.”Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888 (from Work: A Story of Experience)
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Stephen King, born 1947
This weekend is again shaping up to be perfectly literary. Today I meet with my book club, The Petty Rebuttals where we will be discussing Room by Emma Donoghue and tomorrow is the Brooklyn Book Festival where I will be manning the Jane Austen Society of North America’s table for an hour in full Regency dress!! But more about that later because I want to tell you about last weekend that proved to be very literary as well.
Saturday began quite bookish. Its scope spanned the centuries beginning with Jane Austen and ending with what was promised to be a sordid foray into international erotic writing.
My day began with the New York Regional meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). A group of like-minded admirers of the works of Jane Austen who come together at regional meetings throughout the year, an annual national general meeting, and at splinter group meetings such as a monthly discussion group, book reading groups and the Juvenilia (a group for the young and the young at heart). This meeting was especially enticing for me as it would be a lecture on fashion of the Regency era and how best to outfit yourself at any budget entitled, Dressing the Miss Bennets. The speaker was Lisa Brown who led the informative lecture with modeling (which I happily participated in).
I had such a wonderful time, catching up with friends, volunteering, and talking about an upcoming general meeting which our chapter is hosting in Brooklyn next autumn. It was exciting to discuss Jane Austen with other enthusiastic readers. It is a wonderful place to socialize with the scholarly as well as those who have newly discovered our favorite author. I was able to discuss with fellow members of the Juvenilia the possibility of a lending library amongst our members of our personal Jane material and the possibility of leading a group discussion in November of Catherine, or the Bower an unfinished fragment written in August 1792. This is an important fragment as it is believed to be a segue between Austen’s youthful juvenilia to her mature published works.
After tea and cucumber sandwiches with the group-at-large, myself and members of the Juvenilia group headed to Manhattan’s lower east side to participate in the 4th Annual Lit Crawl NYC. This event is sponsored by the Litquake Foundation, founded in San Francisco, to give readers more against the back-drop of technology by promoting readings, classroom visits, youth projects all “to foster interest in literature for people of all ages and perpetuate a sense of literary community.” The Crawl was broken up into three 45 minute phases in which you chose from several topics and venues (coffeehouses, bars and lounges). The first venue we decided to attend was sponsored by The Center for Fiction in which authors came up with he first line of books based only on the title and a blurb. Audience participation involved trying to guess what the correct first line was. It was very fun and sometimes raucously hilarious!! The second venue we chose was Nerd Jeopardy presented by publishers Farrar, Straus, Giroux. This one is pretty self-explanatory and one would be led to believe a fun choice but because of the lack of organization and slim audience participation it proved a bit boring and pretentious. The best part of this venue was the Heineken Dark Lager.
Next venue, in the hopes of more than just intellectual stimulation we chose to attend Down and Dirty Round the World the blurb read as follows:
“…an evening of hardboiled, pulpy, and erotic international literature read by some of our favorite authors and translators…”
It proved less than exciting. None of the selections even came close to being pulpy or erotic. Halfway into the first reading my friends and I were wondering if we should just bail. One author/translator read so poorly that if she were to read hard-core porn her monotone voice would fail to titillate. At last it was over! It had one thing going for it, it gave us something to talk about. The only thing about that evening to arouse my desire was the to-die-for pastrami Reuben at Katz’s Deli! That succulent pastrami, its juicy goodness tantalizing my tongue, the tender flesh melting in my mouth… See what I mean?
“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” Jacqueline Kennedy, 1929-1994
Jackie Kennedy Onassis
Yesterday was, apparently, National Buy A Book Day. Oh well, missed that. But not to worry because the American Library Association (ALA) has declared September to be Library Card Sign-Up month. So, if you don’t already have one go to your nearest library and apply for one. They are free and give you access to myriads of books and other media. And for all you parents out there: Hands down, it’s the most important and inexpensive school supply you can get your children!
Folks who know me are aware that besides being a literature reading junkie I am also a sci-fi fanatic. My reading in the genre has been meager and I am remedying that. I have read and loved Starship Troopers, Fahrenheit 451, and The Left Hand of Darkness. I have to admit that the majority of my fondness for science fiction has come from the medium of television and film: Star Trek, Star Wars, Space 1999, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers. Yes, I’ve dressed Trek (Original Series only, thank you) and Star Wars (Princess Leia, slave Leia if you’re lucky) but don’t hold that against me.
The one sci-fi preoccupation I love the most and simply cannot live without is Firefly. Yep, the defunct, didn’t make it a season, space-cowboy, all chock-full of goodness television show. Love it, love it, love it! That’s right if I were stranded on a desert island that just happened to have a DVD player and a television and presumably electricity there are two things I must have so I don’t go all-Lord of the Flies: the book, Pride and Prejudice and the DVD boxed set of Firefly. I know what you are thinking: “Wow, that woman is totally out of her mind!!” But before you run with that allow me to explain why I feel these two very different genres may not be as incompatible as one would presume. And, no, it’s not because of Mr. Darcy and Capt. Reynolds.
Characterization! Jane Austen is a genius when it comes to her characters. Despite the fact that her stories are confined to a limited society she spans the width and breadth of human mettle as well as foible. Who hasn’t chanced upon someone as arrogant and pedantic as Lady Catherine de Bourgh or an insipid flatterer as Mr. Collins. It has been written in a contemporary criticism that Jane Austen handled character with a masterly “perception of its more delicate shades.” In other words, the men and women Jane Austen describes are true representations and not caricature, not two-dimensional and her characters do not lack fault but are nonetheless charming. G.H. Lewes wrote of her writing in 1847:
“What we most heartily enjoy and applaud, is truth in the delineation of life and character: incidents however wonderful, adventures however perilous, are almost as naught when compared with the deep and lasting interest excited by any thing like a correct representation of life.”
And characterization is what is most appealing about Firefly. The creator, Joss Whedon, has created dramatis personae who are engaging and interesting; every role has depth and more to it than meets the eye, again no two-dimensional characters here. The nine people on board Serenity are not perfect (except Kaylee, “I don’t believe there’s a power in the ‘verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful.”) and yet they have a dynamic that is genuine, they too struggle with self-reproach, doubt, and questions of right and wrong. These characters exhibit the same shortcomings that we can relate to and because of this, the canceled show which only consisted of 14 episodes (only 11 were actually aired) has taken on a life after death existence amongst devotees (called “Browncoats”).
So as you can see, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Joss Whedon’s Firefly although very different are not very dissimilar when it comes to characterization and each’s ability to transcend the story and make each character a genuine entity. I think this is why they appeal to me, the inhabitants of each genre speak to me and I can see myself in them. But it doesn’t hurt that they have: