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!

The Semi-Detached House, Emily Eden

Which can be read here, as it is out of copyright, and also this website is brilliant and I am all in favor of celebrating women writers.

Recommended by: Box of Books (whom I owe an apology)

I am sorry for griping abut The Semi-Attached Couple and its unbitchy nature.  Emily Eden is very amusing, and in many ways she is quite like Jane Austen but bitchier.  So I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions even though Helen in The Semi-Attached Couple was very annoying.  Now I have just finished The Semi-Detached House, and it was completely charming.  Everyone in it was so endearing, and they had such pleasant conversations, and everything worked out so neatly, although frankly I was hoping that a certain person and another certain person wouldn’t get engaged, and I thought briefly that Emily Eden was going to dare to leave one of the women single.  But she didn’t.  Oh well.

Here is what the sweet old mother says that made me laugh while I was waiting in line at the post office to send an envelope that will Decide My Future:

Lord Chester and Doctor Ayscough said such clever things about poisons; I thought I would remember them for fear of accidents; but I am not quite certain whether I have not forgotten part.  However, I know it is not wholesome to take strychnine in any great quantity, so mind that, girls; arsenic, which is very apt to get into puddings and gruel, should be avoided, and you should take something after it, if you do swallow any – but I forget what.  It was really very interesting, and I like a good murder that can’t be found out; that is, of course, it is very shocking, but I like to hear about it.

Awww.  She’s cute.  Whenever anyone says “shocking” now, I think of that adorable BBC adaptation of Northanger Abbey (which has already come on Masterpiece Theatre, so you’ve missed it if you didn’t see it) and adorable Felicity Whatsit who plays Catherine, with her big wide eyes and Isabella telling her “It is the most shocking and horrid thing in all the world!”  Oh, and also, the sweet old mother has two daughters, and one time they are talking to a girl who is in some difficulties, and

They were induced to adopt their usual resource, and to call to mamma to come and satisfy the disastrous state of Miss Monteneros’s existence.

Story of my LIFE.  And here is a description of a boat called an outrigger which I don’t know what that is, but the description sounds exactly like my views of kayaks:

It may be necessary to explain that [it is] an apology for a boat, and, apparently, a feeble imitation of a plank – that the individual who hazards his own life in it is happily prevented, by its absurd form, from making any other person a sharer in his danger – that he is liable to be overset by any passing steamer, or by the slightest change of his own posture – that it is difficult to conceive how he ever got into such a thing, or how he is ever to get out of it again, and that the effect he produces on an unprejudiced spectator is that of an aquatic mouse caught in a boat-trap, from which he will never emerge alive, notwithstanding the continual struggle he appears to keep up.

The Semi-Attached Couple, Emily Eden

“Don’t you think Reginald Stuart very much out of spirits?” said Lady Portmore, when she was lingering over the breakfast-table, after the other ladies had withdrawn and Lord Teviot and Stuart had gone out shooting.”Yes, I think he is,” said Ernest, “rather out of spirits, and very much out of cash, I suspect; the old story of cause and effect.”

Recommended by: Box of Books

Now, if I recall correctly (as of course I unfailingly do), the recommending book blog said that Emily Eden was a lot like Jane Austen but bitchier, and I am not particularly finding that. I think her characterization is a little less delicate, and there are some passages that are quite satisfyingly bitchy – like when Mrs. Douglas snubs Lady Portmore, which I wished would happen on every single page because it was hilarious – but not particularly more satisfyingly bitchy than when, for instance, Elizabeth Bennet sorts out Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or (I’m sorry to be so mean but I can’t help it and I felt bad for laughing but oh my God Miss Bates was so damn annoying) Emma is rude to Miss Bates. So I don’t find the more bitchy thing to be true, and I think Emily Eden is not as fantastic as Jane Austen.

However, if I were doing book reviews based on who is better than Jane Austen, I would not have very many positive ones. And I quite enjoyed The Semi-Attached Couple, and I will shortly read The Semi-Detached House, which I have also obtained from the library. I read this book in fits and starts, on account of having about three dozen books in my room and wanting to read them all but actually having time for none, because of classes and work (dem those classes! dem them!), and so it seems to have taken untold ages to read but anyway I have just read it.

It’s about a girl called Helen who is very devoted to her family and has always been the pet, and anyway she becomes engaged to Lord Teviot, realizes she doesn’t love him that much, marries him anyway, and proceeds to have all kinds of domestic unfelicity and Lord Teviot gets cross about everything – I was getting bored with them at this point – and then, happily, they have a big bunch of people come to their house, and things started picking up beautifully. Lady Portmore is, actually, extremely funny, and Ernest Beaufort makes me smile against my will.

The only thing was, and dude, it totally took me by surprise, the book was carrying on, la la la, very Jane Austeny, dee dee dee, everyone’s in love, there’s problems, bitches and cads, hum de dum, lovely innocent girls and their sweet innocent amours, all very well, doop de doop de doop de doo –

And then BAM. There’s an ELECTION. That the characters are INVOLVED IN.   Like they are HARDCORE INVOLVED IN IT.  I was totally not prepared for it. I was left sitting staring at the book like, Hey! You were supposed to be a bitchier Jane Austen! Why are you suddenly a political novel, you slumbitch book?

Which is all part of my averseness to change, especially sudden startling unexpected change of genre in books I am reading, which is one reason I didn’t like Lizst’s Kiss and the reason I was so dismayed by Special Topics in Calamity Physics which I thought was a coming-of-age novel but was actually a mystery.

Happily the election went away pretty promptly, but then it was back to wrapping things up extremely tidily, and I found the ending unsatisfying, and my stars, how boring was Helen when Lord Teviot was sick?  But otherwise I enjoyed it a lot, and I will probably never ever read it again.