Ten (well, six) Books for Which My Feelings Have Changed

Happy Tuesday, friends! The Broke and the Bookish are, as ever, hosting a Top Ten Tuesday, and I love the question for this week:

Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed (less love, more love, complicated feelings, indifference, thought it was great in a genre until you became more well read in that genre etc.)

I couldn’t think of ten — my initial responses to most of the books I read continue to hold true on rereads — but here are six, anyway!

1. Emma, by Jane Austen – I think the problem here is that I saw Clueless, one of the world’s most perfect movies, long before I read Emma, and it left me unfit to enjoy the book. It wasn’t that I thought Emma was a dick (I love Emma actually, and I super-identify with her), it was just that I thought the book she was in was terminally boring. I finally read it during a slow day at my second-ever job1 and couldn’t figure out what my problem with it had ever been. It’s my favorite Jane Austen book now!

Emma

2. Rose in Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott – No, I know, I’m hitting all the absolute high points in contemporary fiction with this list. DEAL WITH IT. When I read Rose in Bloom as a kid, I thought it was super boring and I didn’t understand why Rose was ever into Charlie in the first place. Or Mac. What was her deal, I thought. Rereading it as an adult (this is true of An Old-Fashioned Girl too actually!), I’m surprised by the level of nuance Alcott gets into both of those relationships. Young Jenny missed it completely.

3. Angela and Diabola, Lynne Reid Banks – I loved this book when I was a kid. As an adult, I felt slightly smug that I was never that into the Indian in the Cupboard books in the first place, reserving my true love for Lynne Reid Banks’s lesser-known, unracist kids’ books, including this one and the apocalyptically terrifying The Fairy Rebel. What superb critical taste my younger self had, I thought.

the pride before which a fall goeth

I recently reread Angela and Diabola and it was a hella rude awakening. (The Fairy Rebel is still fine. That book rocks. Don’t read it right before bed though, or if you have wasps living near you.) The good twin has fair skin and golden hair, and the bad twin is darker-skinned with corkscrew curls. The corkscrew curls are mentioned a lot. It is — uncomfortable to read. Would not give to a child.2

4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson – When I lived in England, I checked this out of our library (which had a paternoster lift, see below for gif depiction) and thought I was going to die of boredom.

so called because you say a prayer when you get in it that you won’t die. Before you ask, yes, you can ride it over the top and down onto the other side

As with Emma, I don’t know what was going on in my head the first time I tried to read this book. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the furthest thing from boring, and I’m so glad book bloggers convinced me give Shirley Jackson another try. Thanks, bloggers!

5. Possession, A. S. Byatt – People who don’t do a lot of rereading often ask me if I worry that rereading a book will make me like it less. Yes, I think about that sometimes; but if what me and the book had was true love, not just a fling, it should stand the test of time. Possession is a rare but notable failure of rereading. When I first read this book I loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Called it the Arcadia of novels. Was baffled that I never got on with any of A. S. Byatt’s other books. Then I reread it and was like:

OH WELL. I guess it wasn’t true love.

6. Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones. Let me clarify something: My feelings for this book haven’t changed. I loved it when I first read it, I loved it every time I reread it, and I continue to love it with a fierce and abiding passion. What’s changed is that I realize now, in a way I didn’t as a teenager, how many legitimate truth bombs about morality and emotions and adulthood Diana Wynne Jones is dropping in this book. The example I always use is “being a hero means ignoring how silly you feel” — which, goddamn, that is the truest truth that maybe I have ever encountered in fiction. Standing up for what’s right does not actually have a stirring musical soundtrack. More like a soundtrack of chilly, uncomfortable, disapproving silence.

7. See also: The vast majority of Diana Wynne Jones books. I’ve disliked all but maybe four of her books, upon reading them for the first time. Not for nothing did they name Jenny’s Law after me: Diana Wynne Jones Is Better on a Reread.

What about you, friends? Are you a big rereader, or not so much? Do you generally stay true to your first impressions, or can you think of some books you’ve grown out of / into over the years?

  1. Shh, don’t tell my college bookstore.
  2. Just this last Christmas, by contrast, I gave The Fairy Rebel to a child of my acquaintance and she PROBABLY LOVED IT.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.44: Reworking Classic Novels, Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, and a Return to Polar Explorers

Happy Wednesday! This week, we’re talking about adaptations of classic novels and reviewing Alexander McCall Smith’s updating of Jane Austen’s Emma. We’re also getting back to our roots with a polar explorer update! You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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Books discussed in this podcast are listed, in order, below. If any book is an adaptation of another book, the source material is listed in parentheses.

Wicked, Gregory Maguire (The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum)
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire (Cinderella. This doesn’t count.)

What a great poster.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard (Hamlet, William Shakespeare)
Fool, Christopher Moore (King Lear, William Shakespeare)
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)
Longbourn, Jo Baker (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
Lady’s Maid, Margaret Forster
Alias Hook, Lisa Jensen (Peter Pan, JM Barrie)

pause for you to enjoy the Go Fug Yourself recap of the live Peter Pan. It’s superb. I did look it up as soon as we were off the phone.

Re Jane, Patricia Park (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)
Ana of California, Andi Teran (Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery)
CLUELESS even though it’s not a book, because it’s the greatest book adaptation there’s ever been.
Salome, Oscar Wilde (Salome story from the Bible!) PLUS: Dirtbag Lord Alfred Douglas.
Many Waters, Madeleine L’Engle (Noah’s Ark story from the Bible)
Behold Your Queen, Gladys Malvern (Esther story from the Bible)
Game of Queens, India Edghill
The Once and Future King, TH White (King Arthur story) (please enjoy Madam Mim)
Wishing for Tomorrow, Hilary McKay (A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Ulysses, James Joyce (the Odyssey)
The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason (READ THIS SERIOUSLY THO)

Book reviewed this week: Emma, Alexander McCall Smith
But instead of that, read Emma by Jane Austen cause it rocks, and then watch Clueless.

The Ice Master, Jennifer Niven (the story of Bartlett’s extremely disastrous journey on the Karluk)
Ada Blackjack, Jennifer Niven
All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven (the buzzy YA novel in question)

Here’s the adorable toddler who was on the Karluk trip. LOOK HOW CUTE THIS BABY:

For next time: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall.

Emma Readalong part three

The third volume of Emma is best understood as the volume in which all the terrible people are terribling everything up, and even the nice people aren’t at their radiant best. The particular nightmare of volume three is the dreaded Mrs. Elton. State Senator Scumbag Elton’s new wife is unburdened by social graces and makes everyone monumentally uncomfortable in a hundred small ways: overfamiliarity with people she barely knows (Emma is annoyed with her for calling Mr. Knightley “Knightley”, and Frank notices with evident irritation that she calls Jane Fairfax “Jane”); talking about her lofty place in the social structure of Highbury; demanding compliments for her clothes and hair.

Mrs. Elton
Emma

(Those gifs would also work if I captioned them Frank Churchill / Mr. Knightley.)

I’ve said in the past that Mr. Knightley isn’t the best of the Austen heroes, as didactic and patronizing as he can sometimes be to Emma. If I were she, I would be all the time

But she takes his scolding in remarkably good grace, even when he’s making her feel terrible, as when he takes her to task (rightly) for teasing Miss Bates in front of the whole picnic party. The light heart that Emma brings to her life, including — usually — the admonishments Mr. Knightley sends her way, make it easier to like her and easier to take Mr. Knightley’s scolding as gracefully as Emma does.

On the up side, it’s nice to see him showing his feelings for Emma:

“Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr. Knightley.

 

She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me.”

 

“Will you?” said he, offering his hand.

 

“Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

 

“Brother and sister! no indeed.”

By the time I finally read Emma all the way through, I was familiar with its rough outlines, both from Clueless and from the movie adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow, but I think if I hadn’t been, this would be the moment at which I’d have spotted that Mr. Knightley was carrying a torch for his old friend. Well, that, and:

Mr. Knightley, who, for some reason best known to himself, had certainly taken an early dislike to Frank Churchill, was only growing to dislike him more. He began to suspect him of some double-dealing in his pursuit of Emma.

Aw. Actually, if I’m honest, the thing that makes me like Mr. Knightley the most in this book is how much he hates Frank Churchill. For such a level-headed dude, he takes against Frank ferociously and talks smack about him all through the book, without surcease. It’s great. Plus, it is sweet that Mr. Knightley is mad at him in the first place for slighting Mrs. Weston by not visiting, and in the second place for dicking Emma around. Quite rightly! Those are things that Frank Churchill does that are shabby!

Anyway, it all ends well. Emma accepts Mr. Knightley’s proposal, Harriet accepts Mr. Martin’s proposal (duh, he’s the best), and Frank writes an apologetic(ish) letter to Mrs. Weston explaining why he acted like such a jerk. And they all live happily ever after, I suppose, although I think it would be better if Jane Fairfax stayed in town so she and Emma could be friends. Emma doesn’t have enough friends of her own age and station.

Emma Readalong! Part Two: Frank Churchill is the worst

Ah, Frank Churchill. If I were forced to voice an area of dissatisfaction with Clueless (which, why would I ever be?), it would be that some of the characters in Emma who delight me with their dreadfulness are not adequately represented in Clueless. So much of Emma’s character in the books is informed by her trying to avoid being bored. She’s not as attentive to the Bates ladies as she ought to be because of how DAMN BORING they are:

“Thank you. You are very kind. Yes, next week. Every body is so surprized; and every body says the same obliging things. I am sure she will be as happy to see her friends at Highbury, as they can be to see her. Yes, Friday or Saturday; she cannot say which, because Colonel Campbell will be wanting the carriage himself one of those days. So very good of them to send her the whole way! But they always do, you know. Oh yes, Friday or Saturday next. That is what she writes about. That is the reason of her writing out of rule, as we call it; for, in the common course, we should not have heard from her before next Tuesday or Wednesday.”

A few paragraphs of this and you feel like

And that’s just from reading the conversation! Imagine sitting through it! I really feel for Emma when she visits the Bateses, or when Jane Fairfax visits her. Emma starts out with the best of intentions towards Jane Fairfax, but Jane is maddening to try to have a conversation with. Emma’s all “GUESS WHAT SURPRISE MARRIAGE IN TOWN,” and Jane won’t enter into it at all.

Jane’s curiosity did not appear of that absorbing nature as wholly to occupy her.

As for Frank Churchill, I’m a hundred percent with Mr. Knightley on this one: Like most of the antic young men in Jane Austen’s books, this kid’s a dick. I had forgotten how mean he is about Jane Fairfax — I can’t imagine anything meaner than beginning his conversation about her to Emma by saying she’s sallow and sick-looking. If I were Jane Fairfax, I’d have kicked his ass to the curb. A guy who says this about the woman he secretly loves is a worthless guy.

“Thank you for rousing me,” he replied.  “I believe I have been very rude; but really Miss Fairfax has done her hair in so odd a way—so very odd a way—that I cannot keep my eyes from her. I never saw any thing so outree!—Those curls!—This must be a fancy of her own.”

Or this:

“Perhaps it is as well [the party ended],” said Frank Churchill, as he attended Emma to her carriage.  “I must have asked Miss Fairfax, and her languid dancing would not have agreed with me, after your’s.

Get a different job, Mr. Churchill.

By contrast, Mr. Knightley, who I am liking so much better on this reread than I ever have before, displays his awesomeness by ordering a carriage for Jane Fairfax and the ladies Bates, and also by saying, “Surprizes are foolish things.  The pleasure is not enhanced, and the  inconvenience is often considerable.”

(I hate surprises)

I’ll have more to say about Mrs. Elton in the third section of this readalong, but for now, I will just say that it’s nice to see Emma taking one of Mr. Knightley’s lectures to heart, and deciding to try to be nicer to Jane Fairfax:

“This is very true,” said she, “at least as far as relates to me, which was all that was meant—and it is very shameful.—Of the same age—and always knowing her—I ought to have been more her friend.—She will never like me now.  I have neglected her too long.  But I will shew her greater attention than I have done.”

Good for you, Emma! Way to grow as a person!

Emma Readalong!: Part One

I have seen Clueless … a few times. It’s not germane to know exactly how many, and also I’ve lost count. In my defense, Clueless is amazing. I’ve seen it so many times, in fact, that I can’t read Emma–even for a readalong where Emma Approved is the adaptation to discuss — without a thick overlay of Clueless: When Emma first starts spending time with Harriet, all I can think of is this:

THE INTERNET MADE THIS GIF FOR ME

Occasionally I worry that I’m not addressing the novel on its own terms, but mostly I feel glad that Alicia Silverstone’s fundamental adorability and goodness makes it possible for me to keep liking Emma Woodhouse even when she’s being terrible. And she is being pretty terrible in the first volume of Emma.

Where other Jane Austen heroines are slightly outsiders, or teetering on the brink of the possibility of outsiderdom, Emma Woodhouse is wealthy, beautiful, and happy to remain single all her days.

“But still, you will be an old maid! and that’s so dreadful!”

 

“Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a general public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else.

Her motivation isn’t achieving any kind of security — she’s as secure as a person can be. It’s really just finding ways to fill her empty days, whether that be with charitable works (likeable!) or pseudo-charitable works like fixing up Harriet with a posh guy (ick). Jane Austen admitted from the outset that Emma was a heroine nobody but herself would much like, and a big part of that is the privilege Emma’s lived in all her life.

Luckily, Alicia Silverstone! Look how cute she is when she’s self-satisfied!

Awww. But also, ew.

Jane Austen is a smart lady. The storyline that frames the first volume of Emma is about someone who takes Emma’s obsession with class to its logical conclusion. Mr. Elton, the match Emma wants for Harriet, thinks of Harriet the way Emma thinks of the Martins: Good enough in her place, but not a person deserving of any serious consideration or respect. His mindset isn’t the least bit different to Emma’s, just aimed in another direction.

Wish my life gave me more opportunities to say this.

Another piece of brilliance by Jane Austen is that she’s given us an unreliable narrator, and it’s fun — because the stakes are low — to watch Emma’s certainty and enthusiasm as she races full-tilt towards disappointment. You know that Emma is basically good-natured, and also that she’s untouchable by external forces, so she’s only going to do damage to herself. While, you know, growing as a person, and fighting with Paul Rudd over the remote control.

If you aren’t watching Emma Approved, by the way, I recommend it to you once again. Currently it’s on hiatus, and you can catch yourself up before its return in February. The series so far runs to basically the end of the first volume of Emma, when Mr. Elton hits on Cher in the car.

The writers do a fantastic job at making Emma difficult to like at first, and then letting you see the chinks in her armor of self-confidence. Joanne Sotomura, who plays Emma, has wonderful chemistry with Brent Bailey, who plays Mr. Knightley; they perfectly capture the mixture of affection and mutual bossiness (is that fair to say, mutual bossiness?) that these characters have for each other in the book.

Oh Joanna Sotomura, you are just as cute as a little button.

EMMA APPROVED I MISS YOU SO MUCH PLEASE COME BACK.

(Nota bene: I have started rewatching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as a substitute for Emma Approved. It’s interesting to rewatch it, having seen the new stuff they tried with Emma Approved. I’m watching one episode on a Monday and one on a Thursday, and it is great. I will still be really excited when Emma Approved comes back. Emma and Alex Knightley are adorable, and I want to see poor nervous Harriet find happiness.)