Books of the Month: July 2013

This is only new books, as per my Good Reads queue. I generally re-read a lot, as well. I’m a big believer in re-reading.

  • Some Assembly Required and Operating Instructions, by Ann Lamott. Now, normally I won’t read her books at all, because she is diametrically opposed to everything I am, and I generally don’t like book that tell me I’m an idiot or whatever for a whole bunch of pages. But these were a book club selection for my Mail Order book club. So I read them. SAR was better than OI. But still, not high on my list of pleasure reading.
  • Kisses from Katie: about how a teenager from Tennessee came to live in Uganda and become the mother of a lot of girls! A great inspirational read.
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life In Small Things: Probably one of the top three books on Jane I’ve read.
  • Love Walked In. I thought this book was going one way. It went another. And was better for it.
  • Divergent and Insurgent: Two of the three books in the Divergent trilogy (book three comes out in October). Very much recommended. They’re in the vein of Hunger Games, and a movie comes out based on Divergent next year.
  • The Phantom of the Opera, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary: I love Phantom. So I had to read it.
  • The White Princess: A continuation of Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series. This time, it’s Elizabeth, who became the wife of Henry VII and the mother of Henry VIII. She was in love with King Richard III, but after his death, was forced to marry Henry Tudor to create a new Tudor dynasty.
  • The Light In the Ruins: Forbidden love in World War II Italy meets a modern day detective story.
  • And Then There Were None: The play version–preparing for an audition.
  • Bring Up The Bodies. Finally finished this. Not compelling, and generally much inferior to its’ predecessor Wolfe Hall.
  • The last Time I Saw Paris: Future book club selection so withholding my review. 🙂
  • Organized Simplicity: this had a real impact on how I view housekeeping. So much so that I’m doing a series about it over on my blog.

That’s it for me!


Happy birthday, America!

Something to read today: The Declaration of Indepedence

"The Rocket", 1909

“The Rocket”, 1909

Some good Fourth of July books?

John Adams, by David McCullough. Also, 1776 by the same author, which is a lot shorter, but just as good. (It’s also one of our book club selections!)

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, about the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place July 1-3, 1863, and is also the basis for the film Gettysburg.

July book: Moloka’i, by Alan Brennert

I am really excited to share this book in book club, for a few reasons. One, it’s a great novel about something most people probably don’t know a lot about: how the Hawaiian government handled leprosy/Hansen’s disease by shipping those with the disease to the island of Moloka’i, forcibly separating them from their families, usually for the rest of their lives. Two, it has two new Saints from the Catholic Church in it: St. Damian of Molokai, and St. Marianne Cope, who was a Franciscan sister who ran a house for girls with leprosy on the island. Sr. Marianne was recently canonized.

Moloka’i is told from the perspective of a young girl who is diagnosed with leprosy and sent to live on the island. That choice of narrator provides such a rich variety of experiences, as she grows up in a very different place than most little girls do. The compelling narration is one of the best elements of the story.

If you’d like to read along with us, feel free! Even if you’ve already read it, I always approve of re-reading. 🙂

Book Club Reading List July-April 2014

So we’ve cobbled together a book list for our meetings through April 2014. We’re taking December off because that month just gets crazy. Here they are!

July: Molokai by Alan Brennert (2004)

August: Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden (2012)

September: Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini (2013)

October: Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins (2008)

November: Evangelical Catholicism by George Weigel (2013)

January: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)

February: The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene (2011)

March: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (2011)

April: 1776 by David McCullough (2007)

What Emily read: May 2013

Looking back over my Goodreads counter, I see I read a ton of books in May. So buckle up. 🙂

Waiting to Be Heard, by Amanda Knox: Knox was convicted of murdering her British roommate in Italy several years ago. The ruling was then reversed, and Amanda was released and sent back to the states. Now the Italian government wants her extradited to stand trial for the murder again. This is Knox’s memoir about her time in Italy, what happened the night of the murder, and her experiences with the Italian justice system. Let’s just say it’s not a fond look. She definitely makes some questionable choices in the beginning, but her treatment at the hands of the Italian government is shabby at the best. It was a quick read.

donkey pilgrims Last of the Donkey Pilgrims, by Kevin O’Hara: O’Hara, a Vietnam vet and Irish citizen by birth, comes back to Ireland from his home in the states and endeavors to be a “donkey pilgrim”–to traverse all of Ireland with a donkey and cart. It’s a fun and fascinating read, and if you’re at all Irish, like I am, or just love a good travelogue, you’ll very much enjoy this book.

May I Be Happy, by Cyndi Lee: A memoir by the world renowed yoga instructor about body acceptance and the meaning of happiness. (And yes, yoga in involved)

A Step of Faith, Richard Paul Evans: I am a total devotee of RPE, and have been since I read his first book, The Christmas Box, in seventh grade. This is the fourth installment of his very popular Walk series, in which the protagonist decides to walk from his home in Seattle to Key West, Florida, after the death of his wife and the loss of his home and business. This series is tremendously well written.

a step of faith

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson: A fantastically funny quasi-memoir by the author of The Bloggess. It’s quick, it’s hysterical.

Fides et Ratio: John Paul The Great’s encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason.

My Sisters The Saintsby Colleen Carroll Campbell: I really wanted to like this, but it left me sort of cold. There was a sense of overdramatic writing and trying a bit too hard to make her journey relate to that of familiar saints.

Blessed, Beautiful and Bodaciousby Pat Gohn: Now I really liked this one. The book deals with how to be an authentically Catholic woman, without resorting to the all-too-common “married women only need apply” patina that glosses so many of similar books. Her writing style is conversational and fluid, and I really enjoyed it.

Once, by Enda Walsh: In preparation for seeing the show, I read the script.

Return of the nativeThe Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy: In the mode of almost all Hardy: man and woman marry. Man and woman unhappy. Man and woman end unhappily. Sigh. However, it’s good writing and vivid characters.

Italian Food, by Elizabeth David: I bought this in NYC during a recent trip, and loved this book. David, a famous British food writer, makes Italian food accessible with simple recipes that still work today.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter: Yes, I finally broke down and read this. Stick with it. It starts slow, but oh how it all comes together!

Extra Virginity, by Tom Mueller: Extra Virgin Olive Oil has become a staple in American kitchens. But is it really extra virgin? A fascinating look at the olive oil industry around the world.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, by Bob Spitz: Continuing in the cooking vein, this is a brilliant, all encompassing biography of the woman who really brought French cooking to America. Spitz doesn’t gloss over the more controversial or idiosyncratic parts of her character and allows her to exist in her entirety. A great read.

A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, by George R R Martin: Books two and three in the Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire series. Battles are won and lost, people are dismembered, people die, and marriages are made. And ended. Oh, and dragons.

The Joy Diet, by Martha Beck: Ten ways to bring more joy into your life. possession

Possession, by AS Byatt: If you read only one book on this VERY LONG list, make it this one. Two British researches uncover a hidden relationship between two Victorian era poets. That’s the basic outline. But it’s so much more than that. Read it.

First Read: Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan

Note: I won an advance copy of this book through the website Good Reads. It’s an “advance uncorrected proof” according to the publisher’s sticker on the front. I’m not paid to write a review, I’m writing it for the heck of it–although that is part of the understanding with Good Reads (that if you win a book, you’ll review it). I don’t know the author personally, so all thoughts are my own. 

Most of us think we know all about Helen Keller: the blind/deaf girl who, at the age of seven, learned that everything has a name from the tireless work of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, who finger spelled words into her hand. She graduated from Radcliffe College, gave speeches throughout the country, travelled the world, and wrote The Story of My Life, as well as other works. She was a close friend of Mark Twain and Alexander Graham Bell, and met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland until she died in the 1960s.

But history glosses over some things: she was a Socialist, against World War I, not traditionally Christian (she was a Swedenborgian), and supported Margaret Sanger’s birth control crusade.

She also fell in love.

In the novel Helen Keller In Love, it is this last part that receives attention, although the less palatable facts of Helen’s life, such as her political views, are also mentioned. Sultan seeks to create a full portrait of the woman that everyone thinks they know from her writings, history, and The Miracle Worker. But Helen was a woman of passions and desires just like any other, and, at the age of 37, fell in love with her secretary, Peter Fagin. The two applied for, and received, a marriage application from Boston City Hall, and it seemed that the two would elope. But they never married.

The letters written between the two were lost in a house fire during Helen’s lifetime. But the historical record does tell us that Fagin did exist, as did the marriage license. How their relationship blossomed and, eventually, ended, is Fagin’s plot line.

Her Helen is fully realized, a sharply intelligent, fiery and passionate woman who, at thirty seven, has never had a man touch in her admiration, has never been in love, and has never been allowed to pursue any life outside of what her mother and Annie deemed appropriate for her. When Annie becomes seriously ill, Fagin is brought in as an aide to Helen. Freed from Annie’s constant scrutiny and companionship for the first tim win her life, she falls in love with Peter…and he seems to be in love with her. Is he really? Or is he attracted to her fame and the notoriety that being close to her brings him?

The novel also creates a compelling portrait of Helen’s relationship with “Teacher”, as well as with her mother, Kate, and younger sister, Mildred. Everyone in her life wants what’s “best for Helen”–but Helen rarely gets to decide what is best for her.

Sultan’s novel is compelling and a richly rewarding read, as she brings to life the Helen Keller that few people are aware of–one who lived a full life outside the perfect public appearances.


Jane’s House

Well, her final house.

More information on the museum. 

This is a place I must go before I die. I have to do the Jane Austen tour of England.

And yes, this is what is meant by a “cottage” in the Georgian period. Multiple bedrooms, multiple fireplaces…windows, grounds…this isn’t some Grimm Fairy Tale cottage with only one room. So, when you think of Barton Cottage in Sense and Sensibility, think something along these lines.


Jane in the movies

Especially recently, Jane’s works have been subject to many movie versions. Some are very good. Some are not worthy of being touched by a true Jane-ite (ahem, Keira Knightley P&P?!). So, here’s my list of approved Jane films, if you want to start here, instead of the novels

  • Pride and Prejudice, BBC, 1995: THE VERSION. The only version. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The Wet Shirt Scene. Perfection. Available on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray. Must-have. Must-see. This is, essentially, the entire novel, in six hours. If this doesn’t make you want to fall head over heels for Jane, I worry about you.
  • Sense and Sensibility: 1997, Ang Lee directed. Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet. Alan Rickman as a good guy! (DVD, possibly Blu-Ray) A good second is the recent BBC version with Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley! Squee!), Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morihan. Dan Stevens. Wet shirt. Chopping wood. And a duel! DVD (possibly Blu-Ray)
  • Mansfield Park: 1999, Frances O’Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Victoria Hamilton. Harold Pinter is Sir Thomas! This adaptation also includes quotes from Jane’s juvenalia (her early writings), passed off as Fanny’s writing. This really captures the vitality of the novel–a perfect edition. DVD
  • Emma: 2009, BBC. The only version of Emma where I like Emma! Romola Garai, Michael Gambon (Prof. Dumbledore) as Emma’s father, and Jonny Lee Miller (from MP, above) as Mr. Knightley.
  • Persuasion: Two versions, tied. One, Sony Pictures Classic, 1995, with Amanda Root as Anne. Does the story justice: really fleshes it out, and Anne is so very sympathetic. Also the BBC’s version ( 2007), with Sally Hawkins as Anne. This has a great scene–Anne playing Moonlight Sonata when Wentworth walks in, which I love–but is also a bit hurried. But both versions have their merits. Both available as DVDs, although the 1995 might be hard to find.
  • Northanger Abbey: Yes! There is a version! BBC, 2007, with Felicity Jones as Catherine. DVD.

Jane and her books: A brief overview

(continuing Jane Austen Week  here at TBG…)

So, for the past few days, you’ve read about Jane, her family, and even had some alcoholic punch. That is all well and good.

But why do we care about her, anyway?

Because of the novels she wrote.

Below are quick “capsules” about each novel, with publication date, summary, and any pertinent Jane thoughts about the book. And the plot outlines are outlines–I don’t want to give anything away.

More in-depth posts will follow, especially about Mansfield Park, since that’s the book club selection. But this is enough to get you started.

Sense and Sensibility

  • Begun in 1795 as Elinor and Marianne, and as an epistolary novel–a novel told through letters. In 1797-98 it was changed to Sense and Sensibility, and in the current novel format we know now it as. It was updated in 1809 and offered for publication in 1810, finally being published in October 1811 as a three volume work, “by a lady.”
  • The story revolves around two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and their pursuits of love. At the death of their father, the girls and their mother and younger sister Margaret are forced to leave their luxurious estate and move to a cottage on a distant cousin’s property. The plot follows Elinor and Marianna as they fall in love: Elinor with Edward Ferrars, her brother-in-law, and Marianne with John Willoughby. Elinor embodies the “sense” of the title, while Marianne is the “sensibility”.
  • Central conflict: Passion vs. reason

Pride and Prejudice

  • Begun in October 1796 as First Imrpessions. During 1811-12, Jane “lop’t and crop’t” the manuscript and sold it for 110 pounds. It was published in January of 1813 in three volumes, and the second printing followed in autumn of that year. In 1817, the third edition was released.
  • It was been translated into 35 languages.
  • The classic story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy–can these two opposites overcome their initial impressions of each other and find love? Many wonderfully drawn characters and priceless comic scenes.
  • Much of P&P is based on Jane’s relationship with Tom LeFroy (the story behind the film Becoming Jane). I’ll write more on this later.
  • Jane called P&P her “own darling child,” and it was the fashionable novel of Spring 1813.

Mansfield Park

  • Planning began in 1811, actual writing in 1812. It was published May 9, 1814, with a second edition in 1816.
  • Fanny Price, the heroine, goes to live with her well-off relatives in hopes of gaining some education and social polish that she cannot gain living with her impoverished family. She is constantly reminded that she is “not as good” as her other two female cousins, Maria and Julia, and is somewhat of the family Cinderella. Her worth to the family rises when a wealthy man, Henry Crawford, begins to pay her attentions.
  • Has caused more debate than any other novel.
  • Fanny is probably the most criticized of Austen heroines (one of the reasons I wrote my thesis defending her!).
  • Fanny’s cousin Edmund is one of Jane’s favorite characters.


  • Started January 1814 and finished March 29, 1815. Published December 1815 (but dated 1816), with a run of 2,000 copies.
  • Jane wrote that Emma is “A heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”
  • Emma Woodhouse– “handsome, clever and rich”–is an independently wealthy young woman who is, for lack of a better term, a busybody. Having had some limited success in matchmaking, she now attempts to set up her friend, Harriet, with the local cleric. Emma is a bit spoiled, and the only person who really tries to correct her is her neighbor and brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley.
  • Jane was far from confident that Emma would be well-received, although many current critics call it her finest example of ironic writing.


  • Her last completed novel. Shorter, and a more thoughtful reflection of love among “older” people.
  • Finished August, 1816, and published with Northanger Abbey after her death.
  • “At once the warmest and coldest of Austen’s works, the softest and the hardest.”
  • The story of Anne Elliot, a woman in her late 20s who fell in love when she was younger, but was persuaded not to marry the man because he was poor. Now, her family has lost their fortune and he is a Naval captain with wealth and position. Can their feelings for each other survive the opinions of others?

Northanger Abbey and Other Works

  • NA written first, but published last.
  • A send-up of  the Gothic novel.
  • Catherine Moreland, her heroine, has a very overactive imagination, which she puts to unpleasant use when she visits a well-off family at their Abbey (of the title).