Shelf Conscious [3]: Jane And Elizabeth

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In 2005, I discovered Jane Austen. I know, know. That’s fairly recent considering her books were published a couple of centuries ago. I saw this interview with Keira Knightley about a movie she was promoting at the time. I didn’t know what the movie was and frankly, didn’t really care. In the middle of the interview, they showed this clip:

 

I hadn’t a clue what they were going on about (the dialogue was too English and much too fast) but man, you can cut through the tension between them with a knife. She got my attention. I went on the internet and researched whatever I can about the movie. Since there was no way my husband would agree to see this period piece in the cinema, I knew I had to find another way. Again, this was pre-Goodreads era.  So when I found out about Pride & Prejudice was actually a novel, I knew I had to get it. But mostly, I was biding my time until I can get a copy of the movie. Thankfully, this was not a huge release so it was available just a few months thereafter.
Ever since then, I had to read all of Jane Austen’s books.  As far as literary heroes go, the dashing but recalcitrant Darcy was hard to forget. I thought for sure that it was going to be my all-time favorite. But I was wrong. Captain Wentworth made me forget Fitzwilliam Darcy’s existence almost in an instant.
Persuasion is probably the novel that made me fall in love with second-chance romances. Basically, Anne’s family was once rich who belittled Wentworth when he was a poor boy. Years later, the wheels have turned. He becomes a rich, decorated military man while Anne’s family is struggling to keep up appearances. Admittedly, the revenge wasn’t so sweet. Because for all the snobbery and attempts of hurting Anne, Wentworth suffered two-folds. And that is why Persuasion was my favorite of Austen’s novels.

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Ah, but nothing could’ve prepared me for Mr. Thornton and Margaret. Looking back, I don’t remember how I discovered North and South. If Elizabeth Bennett is your homegirl because she’s all, girl-power and whatnot, Margaret Hale is the leader of their girl band. She is fearless as she is kind-hearted; charitable but opinionated. She fought for the rights of the poor people, but she didn’t stand for the violence they incite. This is England on the cusp of  Industrial Revolution when the rich who owned factories were against unionization. She’s a daughter of a pastor who served God and their fellowman. But she’s far from meek, and she wasn’t afraid to tell a man off. Unfortunately, that role was filled by Mr. Thornton on more than one occasion. You can tell he couldn’t decide whether to kiss her or strangle her or both. But I love the romance because, in the end, Margaret saved Mr. Thornton.

How did you discover Jane Austen?

Have you read North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell?

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Shelf Conscious [#2]: Biographies

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For a time, I was consumed with the need to get my hands on books about other people – powerful, influential people. Some people find answers in self-help books. But depending on whose life I chose to read about at any given time, I found biographies to be a more effective motivation than most of what’s in those shelves. Moreover, and as much as we use our imagination when we read fiction novels, Biographies allowed me to imagine a life through theirs.

Admittedly, reading Diana’s biography had to do more with curiosity over living a fantasy. The release of Diana in 1992 earned Andrew Morton a reputation for sensationalism. At the time, he was accused of bearing falsehoods for a woman that had held the entire world in awe. She was royalty in all the sense of the world. And because her life was far from perfect, she was well liked by all. So I was wholly intrigued.

The book was a very personal account of her life in the palace; the love for her children, her numerous charity work, her problems with bulimia, Charle’s infidelity; her life as a child, and ultimately, what had shaped the woman that she was. Later, Andrew Morton would make a case that Diana herself wrote the book with very little help from him. Not as in a ghostwriter’s capacity, but through recordings that she did herself. Diana was the very essence of grace under pressure. And that’s what I learned about her. Her personal struggles were a beacon of inspiration for my younger self.

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Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate politics a bit more. Mostly, American politics. I’m ashamed to admit that I follow the goings on South of the border more than I do Canadian politics. It’s sad, really. The truth is, American politics tend to incite a more passionate response from me. Our government is not perfect, but rarely do we have controversial contention in our Parliament. And as the whole world watches the developing political gong show that is the election in the States, I’ve become more appreciative of how “boring” Canadian politics is.

I read All the President’s Men because I was curious about the infamous Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon. I don’t quite know how to describe how meticulous this book was. It was very in-depth, and because I was a floundering political reader at the time, it was way out of my league. Thankfully, there was a film of the same title that helped facilitate this curiosity. It took me at least a month to read the entire thing but it was well worth it. I’ve never read anything with a more satisfying ending as All the President’s Men. As in, the bad guys got what they deserved.

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And then there’s this monster of a book. I think I’m still in the middle of it after all these years. Now that Hillary formally accepted her nomination, I’m even more interested in finishing it. This book weighs in at 956 pages – easily the biggest book I have on my bookshelves. This was a Christmas present from my husband when it came out in 2004. Sadly, I’ve yet to pick it back up again. I still remember how it was wrapped – comically awful, but he knew I wanted to read it so I was ecstatic. Nowadays, I’ve added more Democrats to my Biography shelf so if you haven’t caught on, I tend to lean left. Sincerely hoping I’ll get to these books before I die.

Thank you for reading. Join me next week as I venture into English Lit.

 

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Shelf Conscious [1]: Evolution

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I’ve always been a reader. I was that kid growing up in the rural Philippines where power outages go on for days without end.  That has never stopped me from reading. I was reading in the flickering candlelight till the wee hours of the morning. I was that kid who borrowed books from a friend’s sister’s Loveswept Romance library constantly. I was that kid who starved because I saved all my allowance just to buy second-hand books in the city. The library was poorly stocked in my school. And because it’s a Catholic school, the fiction section was very sparse. So you can say that as far as I can remember, I’ve made devouring of books an Olympic sport.

When I moved to Canada, I’ve found it easier to find books – especially cheap, used copies. Because I’ve never really outgrown my love for romance novels, those are always the kind of things I tend to look for. To my absolute delight, I found that they sell them for $0.25 a piece at a thrift shop near our house. I have three-container-full of these books. I’ve moved at least four times in my life now and they’ve moved right along with me (to my husband’s sheer annoyance).

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My reading preferences have always been fluid. It changes depending on where I am in my life. In the early years of the new millennium, I discovered Oprah’s Book Club. Without Goodreads to lead me, I searched for ways to improve my reading taste. Through Oprah’s recommendations, I found a wide-breadth of culture from authors all over the world.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck was a Pulitzer Prize winner about a Chinese family before the World War I. It was a tough read at times. They went through years of adverse hunger and poverty; abuse and imprisonment. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye was her first novel. It dealt with a lot of controversial issues pertaining to race, incest, and child molestation. It’s about a girl who was dealing with insecurities because of her skin colour. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat is equally startling. It’s about a girl who grew up without a mother in Haiti. Having gained asylum in the States, Sophie’s mother sent for her years later. There, she’d witness the trauma her mother experienced while fleeing Haiti through nightly terrors. Sophie was a child borne of rape. Living with her mother will only highlight the struggles both of them go through about their past.

I don’t know if these are the kind of novels I would enjoy reading now. I find that the older I get, the lower my tolerance for difficult reads. I must say that my taste then has been startlingly different to what I read now. Perhaps I’ve had enough of reality that I’ve turned to impossible romances, unbelievable worlds, and nearly perfect characters to get me through the slog of my daily life. Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t as depressing as I’m making it out to be. But reading is a form of escape; and if I wanted to enjoy a book, reading about rape and child molestation would not be my first choice.


Shelf-Conscious is a semi-regular feature on the blog where I talk about the books as it relates to my life. I hope you’ll join me next time!

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