Saturday, March 22, 2008


My reader's block has mercifully lifted. Unable to finish anything of substance for the last month or so, I was really starting to feel agitated. A stab at Richard Russo's Straight Man did not do the trick; although wickedly funny it also contained too many wickedly depressing characters. Not my cup of tea after all. Thankfully I misplaced my copy of it before feeling any more self-imposed pressure to finish it. Hope it doesn't turn up any time soon.

This past week I brought The Glass Castle with me to the beach (mistake) and then made a terrible impulse buy at the Charlotte airport: Jodi Piccoult's new Change of Heart (even bigger mistake). For those of you who haven't read either of these, the first opens with the true story of a New York woman on her way to a party who happens to pass by her homeless mother sifting through garbage on the side of the street. The latter opens with four men in prison, one dying of AIDS and another waiting out his death sentence.

Thankfully two dear, smart people saved me from these books by recommending Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. My breakthrough came with the biography of Austen. It is simply wonderful. Written in a way that appeals to both scholarly and popular audiences, it chronicles the little we know of Jane Austen's life and the roles that reading and writing, dancing, traveling, and family must have played in her life. Although I loved all the biographical stuff, I particularly enjoyed Tomalin's analysis of Austen's works. Here is a snippet of her take on Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice:
"Mrs. Bennet dominates the book from its opening sentence. We read it as a piece of resounding irony -- "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife" -- whereas in fact it is something like a choral statement of the view she shares with every mother in the neighborhood. As the book proceeds, we see Mrs. Bennet proved right more than once. The single men do line up, wanting wives. Her silly predictions about Bingley marrying one of her daughters are justified. Her maddening manoeuvres to leave Jane alone with her admirer are indeed necessary to bring him to the point. Her restored faith that Lydia and Wickham will turn out very well is wonderfully brought to pass. Indeed, her belief that it is better to have ten thousand a year than five, better five thousand than one, and better something than nothing, is also well founded..." (165).

And here she sheds light on Lizzy's reaction to Lydia and Wickham:
"Wickham's prize is a particularly interesting one. Lydia, presented as a bad girl, spoilt by her mother, who sees her as a surrogate self, is selfish and stupid; but her outrageous energies propel her into getting what Elizabeth also wanted - i.e., Wickham - and Austen shows that Lizzy cannot quite forgive Lydia's success. It is not only her superior morality at work, you feel, but a touch of envy that makes her so prim and bad-tempered with Lydia, whose careless vivacity and amorality have allowed her to bag the desirable Wickham. Lydia is the id to Lizzy's ego..."(166).

I had never before considered Lizzy as envious of Lydia, only embarrassed by her. But of course this is a highly plausible reading.

Wonderful book! Highly recommend to anyone who feels the least little bit of affection for Austen. Looking forward to Kingsolver next.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Obama=Daniel Day-Lewis. So true.

Here is a snippet of George Clooney's recent interview in the NY Times Magazine. The newspaper is about all I'm reading at the moment, sad to say, but this was a wonderful find:

Q: Why don’t you run for elected office?
A: That would be a terrible idea. I would be the worst candidate. I’m supporting Barack Obama, and I don’t even think it’s a good idea for me to stump for him. They can pull out some old video of me saying something crazy, and then it suddenly becomes about defending something that I’ve said that has nothing to do with the campaign. I think Huckabee has been incredibly effective, but the least smart thing I’ve seen him do is stand there with Chuck Norris. It’s like, What — can’t you get your own fans? I’ve met Hillary several times, and I like her very much. I think the problem is sort of like this: I’m having a good year with ‘‘Michael Clayton,’’ but this is Daniel Day-Lewis’s year. He’s the actor that all actors are jealous of. I don’t have any understanding of that kind of acting. For me, it’s like a foreign object. And that’s Hillary and Obama.