Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transit in the 1840s, and was associated with a standard itinerary. It served as an educational rite of passage.


It was time for him to perform the tour, which for many generations has been thought necessary to enable the young to take some rapid steps in the career of vice towards putting themselves upon an equality with the aged, and not allowing them to appear as if fallen from the skies, whenever scandalous intrigues are mentioned as the subjects of pleasantry or of praise, according to the degree of skill shewn in carrying them on.

—John Polidori, from "The Vampyre"

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Vampire Books I Actually Think Are Worth Reading

I'm rereading Dracula, and so I've decided to make you a list. I was quite into vampire books in high school, but most of them I now find boring and/or problematic and/or they just aren't doing anything new or interesting with the genre. But there are a few vampire books I do find worth reading. Here they are:

Sunshine by Robin McKinley This book has neither the romanticized vampire nor the monstrous bestial vampire, plus it has a protagonist any feminist can be proud of.

"Carmilla" by Sheridan Le Fanu One of the two short stories* that founded vampire lit. Without "Carmilla," there'd be no Dracula. It's dripping with lesbian sexual tension.

The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat are always worth a read.

Dracula by Bram Stoker Not only foundational, but still an enjoyable read over a hundred years later.

*The other story is "The Vampyre" by John Polidori.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


In the bottle the acids were long ago resolved; the imperial dye had softened with time, as the colour grows richer in stained windows; and the glow of hot autumn afternoons on hillside vineyards was ready to be set free and to dispel the fogs of London.

—from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, April 4, 2013

I spent a lot of years trying to turn myself into a brand because they told us self-branding is a way to success. And I kind of believed the hype. It’s just not true. To this day, I see writers publishing their first book or their second book and I can just see them going overboard with the marketing and getting all hyped up about it. You just have to write. If something good happens for you, post it on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or wherever you make your social-media home, but don’t overdo it. Enough with the marketing! Enough with the goddamn marketing already! I’m sick of it.

—Neil Pollack, from this interview

Friday, March 22, 2013

Queer Historical Romances, Anyone?

Now, you know how I love my historical romances, whether it's Jane Austen or Lisa Kleypas. Today I thought to look up queer historical romances, which I would love to find in bookstores nestled between my Nora Roberts and Lisa Kleypas. Here's a couple that I've found:

This cover is just so typically bodice-ripper, minus the bodice. I think we should dub it breeches-ripper. It makes me chuckle.

But this next one provides all the bodice we could want.

Do you know of any queer historical romances?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chronology of Jane Austen's Life

To continue this small series of posts on Jane Austen, today I'm going to do a chronology of her life, focusing on her writing. Was Pride and Prejudice Austen's first book, or just her most famous? Was it the first drafted? What about Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility? I feel like I've heard different accounts on the order that Austen wrote and published her books, so today I'm setting the record straight. You can find a more detailed version of this timeline in the Penguin Classics edition of Northanger Abbey.

1775 Jane Austen born on December 12th, the seventh child of Revd George Austen and Cassandra Leigh
1776 American Declaration of Independence
1787 Austen (now 11) begins writing what would later become her Juvenilia
1789 French Revolution begins
1795 Austen (now 19) writes "Elinor and Marianne," an early version of Sense and Sensibility
1796-7 Austen writes "First Impressions," an early version of Pride and Prejudice
1798-9 Austen writes "Susan," an early version of Northanger Abbey
1802 Austen (now 26) accepts a marriage proposal, but jilts the fellow the next day
1803 "Susan" sold to publisher, who does not publish it
1804 Austen writes unfinished novel "The Watsons"
1811 Sense and Sensibility published (Austen now 36)
1813 Pride and Prejudice published
1814 Mansfield Park published
1815 Emma published
1816 Austen's health begins to decline (she's now 40). She finishes writing Persuasion
1817 Austen works on Sanditon. She dies on July 18th at the age of 41. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published in December.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bottle A-Day

I am sure of this—that if every body was to drink their bottle a-day, there would not be half the disorders in the world there are now. It would be a famous good thing for us all... There is not the hundredth part of the wine consumed in this kingdom, that there ought to be. Our foggy climate wants help.

—John Thorpe in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

Monday, March 11, 2013

Beloved Northanger Abbey

Last week I read Northanger Abbey for the third time. It was Jane Austen’s first book to sell to a publisher, though it wasn’t actually published until after her death. It’s my favorite Austen novel, and this time I read it for my Gothic lit class. The entire book is eminently quotable. I have quoted it many times in this blog, here and here and here, and at the top of this website. Each time I read it I like it better. The jokes and witticisms have become a beloved and joyful refrain. Mr Tilney discussing the price of muslin with Mrs Allen doesn’t become boring on the third read, rather I am quite tickled and want to cackle, “What a sly, clever thing you are, Mr Tilney!”

I can’t remember if when I first read Northanger Abbey I knew it was a satire of Gothic novels, but the second time I did and had already read The Mysteries of Udolpho and possibly The Monk, and so I was keyed in to the jabs and allusions at the horrid novels. But now, reading it right alongside Radcliff and Lewis and Minerva Press, I pick up on those things even more.


I have become exceedingly fond of our heroine Catherine, her passion for rolling down hills, her unaffected sincerity and enthusiasm. On my first read of the novel I loved Mr Tilney, on my second I found him a bit misogynistic and not properly interested in dear Catherine, "dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity," but on this third I fell in love with him all over again. I like Darcy though I wouldn't call myself a Darcy fangirl, but I adore Mr Tilney. Just sensing that the paragraph on hyacinths and learning to love is approaching makes me feel tender and moved.

I am loving my Penguin Classis edition of the novel, which I arduously searched bookstore and internet to find (finally discovering it in our little local Moscow bookstore). Not only does it have a lovely cover, it also has the original biographical note made by Austen’s brother, as well as a map of Bath and two engravings of abbeys. I am highly enjoying perusing the map of Bath, following Catherine’s footsteps as she walks from her house in Pulteney Street to the Pump Room to the Lower Rooms to Beechen Cliff. Well do I relate to and vicariously live through Catherine debating whether to wear sprigged or spotted muslin to the ball, the warmth and delight that carries her home from the ball and into bed after receiving a single compliment. Nostalgia for a younger Esme, for dances and first dates, sat with me as I read the first volume of Northanger Abbey. "When a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way,” I tell my teenage self.

Reading Northanger Abbey, tracing the map, also makes me look forward to—and reinforces my plans to have—a vacation in the undetermined future where I will spend leisurely days in present-day Bath reading Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, taking in the ambiance, hopefully accompanied by my best friend (no fickle Isabelle!).

*The first three photos are from the Masterpiece Classic version of Northanger Abbey, which is quite enjoyable.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dorothy Wordsworth

Saturday [May 17th, 1800]. Incessant rain from morning till night. T. Ashburner brought us coals. Worked hard & Read Midsummer night’s dream, Ballads—sauntered a little in the garden. The Skobby sate quietly in its nest rocked by the winds & beaten by the rain.

Dorothy Wordsworth, famous poet William Wordsworth’s sister, kept a journal. I much prefer her journal to her brother’s poetry. Sometimes she recounts an event that William later made a poem about; sometimes William borrows from his sister’s journal in his poems. Dorothy’s journal is a recording of the day to day, the changing of the seasons, jam made and shoes mended, the post waited for, walks to the lake. Simple observation and sincere sentiment sometimes reveal beautiful lyricism. It makes me think of something I read in The Knitting Sutra a few days ago: “Is it possible that female spirituality through the ages may have been concealed in the minutiae of domestic life rather than expressed in the grandiosity and pomposity of churches and sermons?”

Sometimes, especially in the spring, I think I’d like to keep a journal like Dorothy’s. “Eggs for breakfast. Frost in the grass. Read Austen, taking notes to lead class discussion. Worked 8 hours at bookstore. Knitted leg warmers, pretty yarn in subtle gold & rose. Had to take out two rows of stitches.”

For this I week I would write: “Bulbs sprouting in garden—narrow-leafed daffodils, full-lipped tulips with their rosy edges. Along the Paradise Creek path, the first flowers of the season: yellow crocuses amidst the dead grass & leafless bushes & dried berries. Makes me think of Easter, & rebirth, & hope.”

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review of Be My Texas Valentine

Be My Texas Valentine
Four stories by Jodi Thomas, Linda Broday, Phyliss Miranda, and DeWanna Pace
Western Romance
Historical Romance

The last couple months have been a flurry of writing, revising, scheduling, rescheduling, contacting committees, reserving a room, and more writing. On Thursday of last week I had my thesis defense completely scheduled and a room booked, and I turned in the first draft of my thesis.

Within a few hours of handing in my thesis, I flew to SeaTac and commenced the long mutli-stage journey of getting to snowy peaceful Holden Village.

And so it was that Friday evening, in a bed above the dining hall at Holden, physically and mentally exhausted, I happily opened Be My Texas Valentine. There is nothing so satisfyingly cozy when you need a vacation as a mass market romance.

I found the book in Potty Patrol, which sounds quite odd, but is kind of like Holden Village's free bin. I'd never read any Western historical romance before, but as it was February a book about Valentines seemed quite appropriate.

The first story, "The Valentine's Curse" by Jodi Thomas, was enjoyable and fun, if not quite as well-written as I like my romances. Brody Monroe, as a Yankee in Texas post-civil war, is an outcast just trying to get by. Young Valerie Allen is twice-widowed, and people stay clear of her, believing her cursed. The two loners are thrown together at a Valentine's Day dance.

The two middle stories had good plots, but it was hard to find that amidst the bad pacing and bumbling characterization. I don't regret reading them, but I will certainly not be reading anything else from Broday and Miranda.

I haven't read the fourth story; I'll save it for a future Valentine's Day.

So, while this anthology wasn't stellar, it was easy and light-hearted when I needed that sort of reading. And it has piqued my interest in Western historical romance; I'll be keeping an eye out for some good cowboy romances. Comment if you know of any.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Reading the last book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy, just out last month. So good! Yay!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The thing about being a writer is that you never have to ask, "Am I doing something that’s worthwhile?" Because even if you fail at it, you know that it’s worth doing.

—Richard Ford

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Morality is only for the middle classes... The lower class can't afford it, and the upper classes have entirely too much leisure time to fill.

—from Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

Monday, February 18, 2013

An Ideal Man

She was going to have to find a husband soon. Some nice, sincere gentleman who would share her love of books. A man who wore spectacles, and liked dogs and children.

—from Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I would never be so bourgeois as to sleep with my own husband.

—from Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review of In the Kingdom of Men

The paperback of In the Kingdom of Men just came out this week, so I think it's about time I posted my review of the novel by my professor and major advisor.

In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

Gin is a young woman in the sixties growing up in the backwoods of Oklahoma under an austere and severely religious grandfather. She makes a bid for freedom by marrying handsome college boy Mason McPhee. Together they go to Saudi Arabia where Mason works on an oil rig and Gin must adjust to marble floors and servants, luxury within the strictly regulated confines of a gated compound. Gin must both adjust to riches and privilege as well as rules based on a racial and sexual hierarchy—Bedouins, Indian houseboys, white wives. And Gin must confront the secret vice and scandal of the Arabian American oil company, a secret that may cost Mason his life.

I'm ambivalent about this book. In some ways I really enjoyed it and thought it was very good writing, but in other ways I wish it could have been better and it didn't meet my expectations.

The beginning is fantastic. Gin growing up in the backwoods of Oklahoma with an austere grandfather were some of the best parts.

I feel like this book can't decide whether it's character driven or plot driven. For me, a book is best when it balances both. In the Kingdom of Men didn't balance the two very well for me. The middle of the book felt plot-driven, but the ending didn't live up to my expectations for a plot-driven work. I was disappointed with the ending until I reworked my expectations for something more existential and character driven. But if this were that sort of book, then I wanted the middle to set me up for that. I felt like the book didn't reveal it's theme until the last page, and the theme couldn't fully resonate with me because it hadn't been built up to, I hadn't seen enough hints of it throughout.

Gin is a hard-headed independent woman. But for all that, she has very little agency throughout the book. I thought in the ending she would claim her agency, but this turned out to be the story of a woman who has life happen to her. This is the story of, for all Gin struggles for independence, a woman who's life is dictated by the external and by other people's choices. There are times when she discusses with Yash (her houseboy) how hard it is to be a woman in a man's world (hey, just clue into the title), but I was still expecting our heroine to do something, to achieve something or change something. So maybe this isn't the traditional story of the hero/heroine saves the day, nor the story of a woman becoming a mature adult through self-awareness, agency, and sovereignty. Maybe this is a fiercely realistic story about how no matter how hard you try you can't often change things. Maybe this is the story of you only think you're in charge of your life. Those are depressing but valid topics, and the epilogue is written thoughtfully and beautifully enough to carry those ideas. But the rest of the book didn't feel like it was that sort of book. The prologue and epilogue almost feel like different books than the whole middle of the book. Or maybe I should says, the parts that take place in Saudi Arabia feel like a different story from the parts that take place in Oklahoma and Rome.

Beautiful writing, interesting and intriguing characters, but I would have liked a little more cohesiveness in plot and theme.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On the Bookshelf—Review of the Madman's Daughter

Juliet Moreau is an orphan trying to survive in Victorian England, working as a maid in a labratory. Six years ago her father disappeared after a scandal—he was convicted of performing vivisection.

Juliet runs into Montgomery, once her father's servant and her own dear childhood friend. Montgomery has grown into a man, seemingly a gentleman, and has a frighteningly deformed servant of his own. But what is more—Montgomery tells Juliet her father is alive and living on an island, and Montgomery still works for him.

Juliet and Montgomery sail for her father's island, picking up a mysterious but attractive castaway named Edward along the way. Will Dr. Moreau welcome his daughter with open arms? Will the scandal about Juliet's father prove to be true? What experiments on the island is Moreau doing, and what's the deal with the odd and deformed islanders? Will Juliet be able to sort out her feelings about Montgomery and Edward?

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Young Adult
Gothic, Romance

Shepherd took on a steep task when she decided to remake The Island of Doctor Moreau into a YA with romantic subplots. It can be difficult not to like this book merely on principle. It's a fun read, but I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't read the H.G. Wells original so recently. A few years between reading The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Madman's Doctor might have made me more receptive to Shepherd's version. And I admit, I may not be partial to this version simply because I've become weary of this type of YA and its tropes.

The further I got into the book the more I got caught up in suspense. There are several intriguing mysteries: What is Edward's past? What really caused the scar along Juliet's spine? What is the monster in the jungle tearing out the islander's hearts?

Montgomery is the most interesting and three-dimensional character in the book. He grew up as a servant but has the brilliance of a scientist. He is essentially kind-hearted, but has learned cruelty. Moreau is both master and father to Montgomery, and Montgomery is in the complicated and unpleasant situation of being servant, assistant, and like a son to Moreau while also being his equal in skill and intellect. On top of that Montgomery is quite handsome.

I would have appreciated a bit more subtlety and finesse, in characterization, in description of the islanders, in the reveal of who the islanders actually are (even though anyone who has read the back of the book will know. God, spoilers!). I thought Juliet's character—a Victorian woman with the violent blood of a mad scientist in her, curiosity and scientific intellect paired with compassion—could have been written more smoothly, more believably. Juliet's claims to being as mad as her father were rather weak.

The islanders in Shepherd's version take on qualities of Frankenstein's monster. Jaguar (Wells' Leopard-Man) gains intellect and self-awareness. Balthasar (Wells' M'ling) has gentleness and compassion. And yet Shepherd's islanders are also more (unnecessarily) physically animalistic than Wells'; they have tusks and tails. Despite Shepherd using sciencey sounding words, I find Moreau's creations in The Madman's Daughter to be less credible, less logical than the original. I can't get more specific without giving away spoilers.

The ending has quite the twist.

I do expect fans of YA (especially paranormal, fantasy, and romantic YA) will eat this up. Fans of the original Doctor Moreau will likely be critical of this reincarnation. For me it was fairly fun and enjoyable, and I kept thinking about it after I read it, but nothing special. I probably won't be reading the sequel, but you never know.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On Literary Genre

I was told to read Pure by Julianna Baggott, because it is an example of literary genre. I know that in the bookstore I work at we shelve Pure in Novels rather than Sci Fi or Teen. But as I read Pure (I finished it but minutes ago), I couldn't figure out why this book was literary fiction when books like The Hunger Games and Wither are not. It would fit perfectly in the Teen section alongside those two books. The quality of writing in Pure is no better than The Hunger Games—which isn't to say the quality of Pure isn't very good, but instead that the quality of The Hunger Games is good. The point of view isn't that which is typical of YA, but it is typical of Sci Fi, and it does have a couple teenagers as dual protagonists. It's more grotesque than the average YA, but again, it would fit in Sci Fi or horror. The themes, issues, political concerns—they are all the same as ones found in The Hunger Games and Wither.

So all this isn't to say Why is Pure literary genre? The question is Why are books like The Hunger Games and Wither not literary genre? Why are they YA? What's the difference between YA and literary genre? I could ask the same thing about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.

People who discount genre, people who only read what has been deemed "literary," are doing a disservice to so many books. They don't even know what they're missing. You shouldn't be allowed to talk about the differences between literary and genre if you don't ever read genre. You are out of the loop. As John Green likes to remind us, YA is a force to be reckoned with. Sci Fi, fantasy, middlegrade fiction, romance, mystery, and horror—they have value. And this is where the  important work is being done. Books that lots of people enjoy, books that people stay up all night reading—these are the books that are influencing culture and getting their ideas into people's heads. You do not have to sell your soul and throw out literary merit in order to write books people want to buy.

I could rant about this for hours. I'll just end by saying that I loved Pure and can't wait for the next book in the trilogy to come out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

a quote from Austen's Northanger Abbey about Mrs Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert's servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not.

—Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister Cassandra

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On the Bookshelf—Interview with John Green

NUVO did a great interview with John Green recently. It's a fairly long interview, so below are some of my favorite excerpts. I particularly like when he talks about how the high brow/low brow literature/genre distinction isn't valuable.  Also, I passionately hate dream sequences in books. I think they are useless and boring. Writers, find better ways to express your characters' mental and emotional states!

NUVO: A representative quote about your work: "Adult readers need to look in the teen section if they're tired of what passes for literary fiction."

John Green: I like adult literary fiction a lot, and I feel bad when people say to adult readers, "You should also consider this novel, this novel and this novel" which are published for teenagers because adult literary fiction is bad. Much of it is—there's no question that a lot of it has become very disconnected from emotional reality, but also very disconnected from this kind of pleasures and consolations of storytelling and story reading. But not all of it; I mean there's tons of it. There's no shortage of good, living, American novelists who write great fiction for adults.
That said, I like being published for teenagers. I don't want to be published for anyone other than teenagers; I don't want to write any other kind of books. But most of my readers, of this book at least, are adults. And I like them, and I'm grateful for them, and I'm glad that the book is finding so many adult readers. In the end, a really good book, if it's a good book, it doesn't matter. My friend said something that at the time I thought was a little bit pretentious, but now I find myself agreeing with it. He said, "When someone reads my book, and then puts it on their bookshelf in their home library, I don't want it to go into the young adult fiction section or the adult fiction section. I want it to go into the 'my favorite book section,'" and that is true. That is what you want.

Green: I don't like flashbacks and I don't really like dreams. I wrote one dream in Alaska. I still kind of regret it. ...

NUVO: Your assistant says your favorite movie is Die Hard 4?

Green: (Laughs as his assistant comes in to confirm that he did actually make such a statement in public, at VidCon 2012.) Well, for the record, my favorite movie is not Die Hard 4. I say that because...they expect me....

NUVO: Like David Foster Wallace picking Tom Clancy as one of his favorite novelists?

Green: Exactly! When Hollywood people ask you who's your dream director and then they mention this very mediocre independent film that came out five years ago. But what would be really great is if Bruce Willis was in [that dream movie]. I say that mostly because I want to make the point that I want my books to be fun to read, and I don't buy this whole high culture-low culture distinction. I'm grateful my books are taken seriously but I really don't like it, particularly in Hollywood, when they're like, "This is a high culture book so it has to be a certain kind of movie." I did like Die Hard 4 very much; I like The Expendables too. I like pop art, and I don't think it's bad just because it's populist. I always say that. My actual favorite movies are Rushmore and Harvey, but I can't say that because they'll think...well, of course, Wes Anderson...


Green: I think [Indianapolis is] a very American city, which is a very good place to live if you're an American writer writing about America, as opposed to New York or Chicago, which are very different from where most Americans live and from where American life is really taking place, in my opinion anyway.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On the Bookshelf—A Symbolic Love Triangle

I'm currently reading The Madman's Daughter (to be published February 2013) and it's got a familiar love triangle, the one we see in The Hunger Games and Twilight.

This triangle is presented when our protagonist (Bella, Katniss) is at a transformative stage of her life, 16 or 17 or 18, on the precipice between childhood and adulthood. She must choose between a young man she has known all her life and a young man she has just met. The one she has known all her life (Gale, Jacob) represents childhood, the familiar, safety. He's almost brotherly. The new guy (Peeta, Edward) means change, what our protagonist can become, adulthood. Edward and Jacob don't need to be fully fleshed characters because their role is to mirror the protagonist, to present an integral choice. Does our protagonist choose to go with the safe option, or does she choose new experiences? Will she allow herself to mature, or will she remain a child? (Hunger Games spoiler alert) The Hunger Games irrevocably changed Katniss; she can never go back to that girl hunting in the woods with Gale. She has to choose Peeta.

When I finish The Madman's Daughter we'll see if I'm right. Will Juliet Moreau choose brotherly Montgomery, or as I think will happen, the mysterious castaway Edward?