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I’ll soon post something more geekish, full of statistics and analysis (the type of post only you, dear bookish friends, will understand and appreciate), so this one is just about the Best of 2011.
I gave five stars to 14 books out of 104, which is pretty good considering past years, but I’m especially happy with their variety. They include:
- Historical novels, non-fiction, classics, young adult, humor, fantasy and sci-fi
- Two were re-reads
- Two non-fiction
- Three audiobooks
- Two under 200 pages, two over 900
- Seven written by men, seven by women
- Three written in the 19th century, five in the 20th and six in the 21th
The top 10 (in no order)
I think this is the begining of a beautiful friendship. These books pushed all the right buttons.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
If you put a gun to my head and force me to chose just one 2011 favorite, I think this would be it.
A great biography, one of the best I’ve read.
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Amin
Thank you Claire for your review – it made me add it to the wishlist, and thank you Downton Abbey for mentioning it – it made it a priority.
Starter for Ten by David Nicholls
Such a funny book, and about quizzes, how could I not love it?
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
Hard to describe this one. Mind-blowing and mind-boggling sounds about right.
Race of Scorpions (House of Niccolo 3) by Dorothy Dunnett
I’m only reading one book of this series a year because you only read DD for the first time once. I dread the day they will come to an end, even with re-reads to look forward to.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
IT was even better the second time around. I read it first in my 20s, now I’m in my 30s and see it in a completely different way. I wonder what I’ll make of it in a decade.
Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn
Another great re-read. Close to YA perfection, in my not so humble opinion. My ultimate comfort reading.
The four runner-ups
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by L. Lockhart
Thank you book blogosphere for this recommendation, it was true to all the raving.
Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Wester
A beautiful little book, which surprised me by how modern it felt.
The Coma by Alex Garland
The best audiobook of the year, in great part due to Matthew Macfadyen’s wonderful voice.
The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
A wonderful way to end the year and one of the reasons I’m naming 2011 The Year When I Truly Discovered Non-Fiction.
Happy 2012 everyone!
Throughout the reading there was a scene from You’ve Got Mail that came often to mind. It’s about another Austen book, but can also apply to S&S. Kathleen writes to Joe Fox:
Confession. I have read Pride and Prejudice about 200 times. I get lost in the language. Words like ‘thither’, ‘mischance’, ‘felicity’. I’m always in agony whether Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are really going to get together. Read it – I know you’ll love it.
The word “felicity” also makes an appearance in S&S, as well as “indefatigable”, “affronting”, “incommode”. How wonderful are these words? I think enjoy them more than most because they’re very close to Latin and hence much closer to my mother-tongue Portuguese. We say “felicidade” for “happiness” and “incomodo” for “inconvenience”.
Did you also notice that in Austen’s other novels there are echoes of S&S? The piano offered to Jane Fairfax in Emma, Mrs. Bennett saying she always noticed something about Wickham not quite right. I’m sure there are more connections that I missed – perhaps in a future re-reading?
It was a great ending to the book, I appreciated it better this time. On my first reading I felt that all was not exactly as pitch-perfect as I would like: Willoughby should have been more unhappy, Elinor and Edward should have been rich, Mrs. Ferrars still preferred her younger son and Marianne should have been much more in love with Captain Brandon than she seemed. But now I think I would have grimaced at the fairy-tale ending, as I would have grimaced at the convenience of Lucy’s change of heart… if Austen herself hadn’t so brilliantly acknowledge it:
Elinor’s particular knowledge of each party made it appear to her in every view, as one of the most extraordinary and unaccountable circumstances she had ever heard.
Sometimes I wish Dickens, the Brontës and other Victorians would better acknowledge the convulsed coincidences they come up with.
But what struck me most this time around was that the book is not so much about the individual sisters (or how I identify with one or the other), but about what we see when we see them together. The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts and all that. No matter what Elinor says, their stories were very similar, the difference was mostly in the way they behaved – and what a ride to witness it!
This may seem obvious is a novel called Sense and Sensibility about two sisters, but I felt it much more now, this analysis of reaction by two people so close and yet so different from one another. Jane Austen, just like Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, was a student of character.
Thanks for all who participated in the readalong – it was so much fun!
Last year Sue from Whispering Gums and I exchanged some comments on each other blogs about our Austen-dedicated bookcases. Shortly after, Sue sent me (all the way from Australia!) “Jane Austen: Antipodean Views”, edited by Susannah Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, and Anne Harbers.
It is the Antipodean counterpart of a 2000 book called Jane Austen: A Celebration, a collection of opinions about Jane Austen from famous Britons. Fullerton and Harbers were curious about the impact (if any) of Austen on a part of the world as far away as it’s physically possible from where she lived and wrote. They sent letters “in the hundreds” to Australians and New Zealanders from all walks of live asking
(…) for a personal response to Jane Austen. We wanted to know if the letters’ recipients could remember a first reading of a Jane Austen novel, if they re-read their books, if they were forced to read their books at school when they would rather be playing sports. We asked if their first reaction to Jane Austen hand changed over time, if the film versions of her books had been enjoyed or disliked and if Jane Austen aroused feelings of pleasure, warmth, indifference or loathing.
The result is a very fun and poignant book. Its biggest assert is the variety that the editors looked for, including several cartoons especially made for the occasion.
Some responses were four pages old, others a single sentence, some written by Professors of Literature, others by cartoonists, Archbishops, librarians, psychologists, race-horse breeders, Prime Ministers.
Some are serious, some are funny, some are emotional. I laughed out loud and even got a bit teary. All together they make a wonderful celebration of Austen and the way she connects so many people around the world. I couldn’t I really fell the “Antipodean” part, though. Apart from a reference here and there to a specific place, these letters could have been written in England, Canada or America.
Can someone out there please compile a similar thing for non-English-speaking countries, where Austen is not compulsory reading in school? I don’t find the fact that an Australian high-school student reads and loves Austen that special, but why would a Mongolian, Yemenite or Croat? How cool would such a book be?
Here are some great quotes:
(My favorite of all letters was by) John Marsden, writer of teenage fiction:
I’ve deliberately refrained from reading Persuasion so that I would never get to the point where I had no more Jane Austens to read. When the doctor, with grave countenance, gives me the news that I have only three months, the grief will be mitigated by delight that at last I am allowed to read Persuasion. In the meantime, I’m avoiding crossing roads when busses are in sight.
Murray Ball, cartoonist, author:
Anyone able to have her chaste, fully clothed, never so much as “felt up” heroine discussed seriously by a first Fifteen changing room of a boys high-school cannot be considered to be anything less than a genius.
Dr Gideon Maxwell Polya, reader and Associate Professor in Biochemistry, author of Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History:
Jane Austen’s most profound message for me is that no matter who, where or what we are, we are empowered by the sensible expression of our thoughts.
Professor Elizabeth Jolley, Writer, Chair of Creative Writing:
I find in old age, I have forgotten the novels, in particular the magic of being lifted into other lives and background. Re-reading is one of the Best Things of old age. Forgetfulness – it is live having a present.
Harry Smith, ex-coal miner:
I’m sure that any one paragraph can be taken at random and the thoughts behind it would present much food for thought and discussion.
Graeme Base, book author and illustrator:
Read for Advent with Austen.
Other thoughts: Whispering Gums (yours?)
Fear not, despite the book’s name, there is only a very tenuous link to the Darcys . There’s actually no scene involving any of Austen’s characters and that might be the reason why I enjoyed The Second Mrs. Darcy, my first novel by Aston.
The Second Mrs Darcy is about Octavia, who, while living in India, meets and marries Captain Darcy (a widow, hence the “Second”), a cousin of the original Fitzwilliam Darcy. When we meet her she’s 25, recently widowed and trying to figure out how she’ll live on the little money her husband left her.
Again, fear not! Soon after, she inherits a fortune from a conveniently long-forgotten aunt and decides to go back to England to take possession and deal with her Horrible Family.
You would of course expect a focus on the romantic story, but it only starts about 50 pages in, and even then there’s not a lot of it. This was surprisingly not a problem, because the best thing about the book was the glimpse into Regency life and seeing Octavia hold her own among people who underestimate her.
I liked that she liked fashion and building things with her hands, horses and architecture, traveling and decorating.
I don’t have much more to say about the book: it was entertaining and it gave me new hope for Austen spin-offs. Truth be told, the connection to Austen was almost non-existent, but I understand that an author also has to pay the rent…
Read for Advent with Austen.
As I read I’m gathering examples that disprove Austen’s general image as a sentimental or “pink” author – this is a conversation I’ve had countless times, usually after people know if my partiality for her. Anyone who doubts how savagely witty she can be, has only to read these S&S chapters.
There are enough psychological undercurrents to rival a Japanese thriller, and unforgiving satire to put her in the British Black Humor Hall of Fame (if it doesn’t exist, it should!).
These chapters open with another brilliant and passive-agressive conversation between Elinor and Lucy. It feels like you’re reading two dialogues at the same time: what’s said and what’s meant.
“Indeed you wrong me,” replied Lucy, with great solemnity; “I know nobody of whose judgment I think so highly as I do of yours; and I do really believe, that if you was to say to me, ‘I advise you by all means to put an end to your engagement with Edward Ferrars, it will be more for the happiness of both of you,’ I should resolve upon doing it immediately.”
Elinor blushed for the insincerity of Edward’s future wife, and replied, “This compliment would effectually frighten me from giving any opinion on the subject had I formed one. It raises my influence much too high; the power of dividing two people so tenderly attached is too much for an indifferent person.”
Lucy is nasty. Interesting how Austen always seems to underline her lack of education, how she’s “ignorant and illiterate”, how Elinor pitied her for “the neglect of abilities which education might have rendered so respectable”. Lucy Steel is what happens when women aren’t encouraged to learn. Austen clearly took much pride it her own education and literary knowledge (she is Elinor is this book, right?) and saw it as an advantage. In P&P Mr. Darcy will also make this point with his famous “improvement of her mind by extensive reading” line.
Many of these sixteen chapters centered on Marianne and her seemingly endless plight, but my attention was all on the secondary characters.
Did you also fall in love with Mrs. Jennings? I know she a bit of a gossip, and would be an impossible house-mate, but she means well and I find her good humor and joie de vivre irresistible. She melted my heart with her reaction to the news about Vile Willoughby and her misguided-yet-sincere offers of help (finest old Constantia wine the perfect solution to gout and a broken heart, who knew?).
On the other hand, their brother John – for shame! At the beginning of the novel I thought he was just a weak and easily manipulated man, but after his conversation with Elinor about Captain Brandon, I see there’s a littleness about him that’s hard to pity.
Will you join us for the last Twitter Movie Night this Sunday? We’re watching Sense and Sensibility (1995), starting 7PM GMT.
Summary of the novel here.
While the first nine chapters were all about how close these sisters were despite their differences, now we start seeing them drift apart. On one hand Marianne was either too focused on Willoughby or too isolated in her own pain. On the other there’s Elinor’s unwillingness to share her own hopes and concerns. Lucy Steel’s secret only came as one more wedge between them.
I think I’ve spoken too soon about Marianne not being as annoying as I expected. In these chapters she really goes out of her way to be contrary and self-and-Willoughby-centered.
What was she thinking by accepting the horse and going off to Allenham unchaperoned? On top of that, she goes all defensive on Elinor when she tries to put some sense into her. Her support of Willoughby’s comments about Coronel Brandon were very unfair and I’m glad Elinor stood up for him and gave them a piece of her (sharp) mind:
But perhaps the abuse of such people as yourself and Marianne will make amends for the regard of Lady Middleton and her mother. If their praise is censure, your censure may be praise, for they are not more undiscerning, than you are prejudiced and unjust.
What is it that makes Marianne act like this? She’s not a bad person, she loves her family. Is it her youth? Does Willoughby just bring out the worst in her? Or maybe it’s a consequence of her determination to only do as her heart commands (with the full support of her mother)?
Shame on Mrs. Dashwood for telling Elinor off when she questioned Willoughby’s actions – “You had rather take evil upon credit than good” – I hope she’ll come to realize just how unfair she was. It felt even worse than Mr. Bennett’s reaction when Elizabeth tried to persuade him not to let Lydia go away. If Mrs Dashwood really knew Elinor, she’d rely more on her instincts about character.
Edward finally came alive and I’m glad of it. During his time at the Cottage he showed us more about his personality, and I really appreciated the glimpses of irony and self-mockery:
“My judgment,” he returned, “is all on your side of the question; but I am afraid my practice is much more on your sister’s. I never wish to offend, but I am so foolishly shy, that I often seem negligent, when I am only kept back by my natural awkwardness. I have frequently thought that I must have been intended by nature to be fond of low company, I am so little at my ease among strangers of gentility!
(“You should practice!”, I can almost hear Elizabeth Bennett say…)
Three random and disconnected thoughts:
- The embarrassment when Elinor found out about the hair Edward was carrying – I could feel it.
- Lucy Steel, you little hypocrite: can you say passive-aggressive? Her interactions with Elinor made my blood boil. You can tell she had a fake smile pasted on her face, while her conniving eyes are measuring Elinor’s every reaction.
- These were chapters filled with conversation, while the previous ones centered more on events. I’m glad of it – Austen is at her best with dialogues.
The Advent with Austen‘s readalong of Sense and Sensibility is being hosted by Yvann over at Reading Fuelled by Tea.
Summary of the novel here.
So. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. What can I say? Not exactly my cup of tea? Gritting my teeth to powder?
Courtney, a modern LA woman, falls asleep reading Pride & Prejudice and wakes up in Regency England, in the body of Jane Mansfield. However, Courtney conveniently has access to Jane’s memories and other skills, like an English accent and embroidery.
I was ready to accept the unexplained time-travelling (even if it had strange rules), and enjoy a good Austen-inspired romp, but Courtney force me to give up on the book.
The way I see it, there are only two options: either Courtney is not really a Jane Austen fan, which would put the whole premise of the book in question, or she’s incredibly thick-witted, shallow and self-absorbed. Even if it’s the second, it’s still impossible that Austen is her “choice of drug” or that she read P&P and S&S “more than 20 times”.
It you’re a Janeite, you’d know restricted women were at that time and not go about giving passionate feminist speeches during dinner parties. You would’t ask someone if a certain house was a “retirement center” or think it “odd” to be escorted to dinner. You wouldn’t meet a man-servant unchaperoned in the city park, despite the damages to your reputation. That is not the type of strong-willed woman who Austen wanted Elizabeth Bennett to be, don’t you understand?
At some point Courtney meets Jane Austen (don’t ask) and what does she talk about? How Jane will be so famous and how her books will be made into movies (!), and the great kissing scenes at the end.
Courtney gives other Jane Austen fans a bad reputation.
And the constant whining… Oh dear. About chaperons, corsets, the lack of vodka and make-up (oh how she missed make-up!), the rules of courtship, the horror of marrying for money, women as baby-makers, bad hygiene and chamber pots, doctors using leeches, the smells! A real Austen fan would know and understand about her life and times, even considering the shock of waking up in a different century. Courtney has no idea about Regency England (big no-no with this title), but more than that, she’s condescending about it.
I get that Jane Austen is BIG and understand the temptation to either honor or capitalize on her, but I really do get upset when authors assume that this is what a modern Austen fan is like.
I can just hear you say “Lighten up!”
Read (at least as far as I could go) for Advent with Austen.
Other (more gentle) thoughts: Dear Author, Stephanie’s Written Word, An Adventure in Reading, Alita.Reads, Rhapsody in Books, Proud Book Nerd, write meg, At Pemberley, Dot Scribbles, Iris on Books, My Books. My Life., Redlady’s Reading Room, Bibliofreakblog, The Infinite Shelf, Book Chatter, Galley Smith, She’s Too Fond of Books, A Few More Pages, I’m Lost in Books (yours?)
The Advent with Austen‘s readalong of Sense and Sensibility is being hosted by Yvann over at Reading Fuelled by Tea.
Summary of the novel here.
Let the great readalong begin! I’m looking forward to what everyone else has to say about Jane Austen’s first published novel. This is the second time I read S&S and it’s surprising how different if fells and how influenced I’ve been by the adaptations.
Just 9 chapters in and I’m already convinced that of all of Austen’s books, S&S is the one that benefits most from screen adaptations. She leaves a lot to our imagination and I missed scenes like the one where Margaret hides in the library, but I especially wanted to see more of Elinor and Edward’s relationship development. There’s a whole chapter with just one conversation of Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood, but so far no exchanges between one of the book’s main couples.
Still, that chapter was great, so witty, so clever, so Austen! You could see she had fun writing it, but it was also very useful to help us understand the injustice suffered by the Dashwood women, Fanny’s meanness and John’s meekness.
These first chapters also set the scene for the sisters’ relationship: unity and deep affection, but also a conflict of conduct and values. I couldn’t help thinking how alone Elinor must have felt at times. Clearly Marianne and her mother are of one mind, and young Margaret is going the same way. It must be tough on Elinor to constantly be the family’s voice of reason, Super-Ego and bad-cop.
I thought that this time around (now that I’m older and wiser, you see?) I’d find Marianne more annoying, but again, I take my hat off to Austen for creating a character like her. She has everything to be an exasperating teen, but instead I find myself thinking that what we need is more people who think and live like her: intensely and in a world of superlatives. I don’t want Marianne to be taught a bitter-but-necessary lesson. I want her to find the man she wants at 16, who reads Cowper with due passion and has an immaculate character.
And maybe Austen thought the same. Maybe she was sorrowful about the dirty job that lay ahead, or Marianne wouldn’t have been such a great character.
Now, please imagine that I said something thoughtful about parenting in Austen’s books, or social mobility, while I continue to muse about how my own idea of the ideal man evolved.
See you all at the joint viewing of Bride and Prejudice this Sunday?
This is the first day of Advent with Austen, a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility.
Hope to see you later today for AwA Twitter Movie Night’s viewing of Pride and Prejudice (2005).
This is the third time I’ve read Persuasion, the first two were very close together, about 10 years ago. Just as I suspected even back then, this time around it became official: Persuasion has overthrown Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel.
New things caught my attention this time around. I realized for instance, how innovative Persuasion must have been at the time, with its focus on a woman’s intimate point of view. Her earlier novels use an objective narrator, but Persuasion goes further and we get an “interior” perspective of Anne’s thoughts. At times I think it even comes close to stream of consciousness.
She now felt a great inclination to go to the outer door; she wanted to see if it rained. Why was she to suspect herself of another motive? Captain Wentworth must be out of sight. She left her seat, she would go, one half of her should not be always so much wiser than the other half, or always suspecting the other of being worse than it was. She would see if it rained.
Notice the subtle self-awareness and even mockery. It must have been a writing style completely new at the time and we can only wonder where Austen would do if she lived longer. Charlotte Brontë does something very similar with Jane Eyre, but that’s 27 years later! JE was also considered radical because it put a plain woman in the lead, but Anne is not far from it, with her “lost bloom”. Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: a Life said something very interesting about this:
[Persuasion is Austen’s] present to herself, to Miss Sharp, to Cassandra, to Martha Lloyd.., to all women who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring.
On a different note, Austen is not the revolutionary type and is far from wanting to challenge the social status quo (Mrs Clay, shame on you for wanting to step out of place!). Yet, Captain Wentworth is an ode to the self-made men if there ever was one. How heroic, how strong and dignified he is, compared to the Elliot family and their pedigree.
On yet another note, this time around I couldn’t help comparing Anne Elliot with Fanny Price. Their families undervalue them, both have strong moral compasses and a discreet presence. Fanny would probably be the only other Austen heroine who could support Persuasion’s plot. I think Elizabeth, Emma, Elinor and Marianne wouldn’t be persuaded and Catherine wouldn’t wait eight years. What do you think?
I’ve often seen Anne and Fanny compared, so it was interesting to try to figure out what makes Anne loved and admired by some many, while Fanny is often the least popular of Austen’s heroines.
First, as a friend of mine said, Anna has “eaten her own dust”. She’s suffered a big disappointment of her own making and that makes her less naïve than Fanny. Age, of course, also helps, as well as the fact that Anne has a “place” in her family (even if undervalued), while Fanny is almost a non-person at Mansfield.
But what makes Anne so great are the moments when we see her sharp mind in action. She’s ironic and often we see her mentally roll her eyes at the silly people around her. In one scene she’s even positively scheming, when she expertly maneuvers herself to a chair close to Captain Wentworth at the concert in Bath. One of my favorite moments in the book is when she’s returning to Uppercross after Louisas’s fall:
Don’t talk of it, don’t talk of it,” he [Captain Wentworth} cried. “Oh God! That I had not given way to her at the fatal moment! Had I done as I ought! But so eager and so resolute! Dear, sweet Louisa!”
Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is proof of Anne Elliot’s subtle mental subversion. I love all the little indicators about Anne’s “level-headness”, intelligence and her own value of these traits. She is the perfect mix of passion and practicality. Fanny on the other hand, is more of an early version of the future Victorian feminine ideal: suffering in silence, docile, erased, stoic.
I tried to look for evidence whether or not Austen knew she was dying while writing Persuasion. She started it in 1715 and finished it in mid 1816, by which time she and her family probably knew she was seriously ill. She died late 1817, still revising the novel. Wikipedia says that “Austen wrote Persuasion in a hurry, during the onset of the illness from which she eventually died.”
If she did know she was sick and feared for her life, did that somehow influence Persuasion‘s plot and characters? It’s interesting to think about the book in this light. It’s a novel about second chances and the right to personal pursuit of happiness. On purpose or not, it is a lovely message to leave behind in a last novel. As Mrs. Croft said, “We none of us want to be in calm waters all our life.”
Other thoughts: Fyrefly’s Book Blog, The Blue Stocking Society, Dot Scribbles, The Literate Mother, Jayne’s Books, The Literary Stew, Open Mind, Insert Book., A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook, Just Books, Rebecca Reads, All Consuming Books, Fashion Piranha, Presenting Lenore, Alita Reads, Worthwhile Books, LesleyW’s Book Nook, The Book Pirate, Fingers and Prose, Desperate Reader, You’ve GOTTA read this, Adventures in Reading, MariReads, Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Stella Matutina, Deliciously Clean Reads, Lost in Books, Reading Reflections, My Random Acts of Reading, Stacy’s Books, The Literary Omnivore, Books. Lists. Life., Tony’s Reading List, A Striped Armchair, Lit Endeavors, Aneca’s World, Bookworm Nation, Shelf Love
Make haste, Advent with Austen is upon us!
Starting Sunday 26 November until Christmas Eve you are invited to post about all things Austen. My plan is to read these:
Yvann over at Reading Fuelled by Tea will lead a read-along of S&S so keep an eye out for the schedule.
Another part of the fun will be the AwA’s Twitter Movie Nights. Join us as we press “play” together every Sunday at 7PM GMT, and then just chat away using the #AwA tag.
To help us decided which movies to watch we’ve prepared a pool and the 4 most voted will be randomly assigned to each Sunday. We’d love to do some series as well, but they’re just too long. Maybe next year we’ll do a P&P 1995 marathon, one episode per chat!
So vote wisely (poll closes: Sunday, 20 November, 11.59PM GMT) :