Today is August 1st, which means the (very lowkey) Austen In August event is here again!
Two months ago, I sent out a call for volunteers to participate in a reboot of Austen in August. Typically, the event is jam-packed with guest posts and giveaways, including blog hopping and a wide range of reading on all things Austen, including her original works plus the many contemporary spin-offs. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it all together this time (perhaps the pandemic has changed blogging? There’s a research project for anyone who wants it!)
Anyhow! I’m trudging ahead on my own with a re-read of Persuasion. This is the Austen book I remember least, and it’s also one of the shorter reads, so I basically chose it for those two reasons. I also haven’t read the book since 2013. I think I also read Mansfield Park that year, and Sense and Sensibility the year before, but I’ve read Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice more recently. So, I’m inviting anyone who’d like to read-along with me to do so, and perhaps next year I’ll return to either Mansfield Park (which I know a lot of you are reading this year!) or Sense and Sensibility. I’ve got my own reading schedule below. I plan to post a reading update here on August 15th and then again on August 31st, to wrap-up.
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”
Feel free to join in, or if you’re participating in Austen in August but reading something else, definitely share your thoughts (and links to your own blog posts!) in the comments here, or on the August 15th and August 31st posts.
The Novel Journal Giveaway
Congratulations to the four winners of my Novel Journal Giveaway. Denise will receive the Arthur Conan Doyle; Teresa will receive the Edgar Allan Poe; Virgine will receive the Oscar Wilde; and Jorie will receive the Henry David Thoreau! All winners have been contacted & have 72-hours to respond before I pick someone else. I’ll mail the journals out in the next couple of weeks (three of the four are international, so I can’t say how long they’ll take to reach you!) Stay tuned for future giveaways coming soon.
Books Read Since Last Update
Middlemarch by George Eliot: I saw someone on Goodreads refer to George Eliot as “Austen (Pride and Prejudice) on steroids,” and I think that’s both hilarious and apt. Middlemarch is concerned with a lot of the same issues as Pride and Prejudice; family and neighbors, courtship, romance, property and inheritance, and even politics (social politics as well as governmental). I tried to read this one many years ago and couldn’t get into it. I’ll admit that I feared this time would be the same. I really struggled for at least half of the book, which is quite the struggle considering this one is 800-pages long! The style felt too dense and the language too lofty. It just wasn’t suiting my mood. Something happened maybe two-thirds of the way in, though, where I found myself trying to make more time to read, and not just to be finished! (That was part of it, though, let’s be honest. It’s a long book.) Eliot is hilarious, though, and there’s really no one can turn a phrase the way she does. Despite some oddities, like really important life events happening entirely off the page only to be referred to nonchalantly within another scene (this happened quite a few times, and I found it so bizarre in a book of this length, where one would expect every detail to get its due treatment), and a whole host of characters it was difficult to care about, the read was worth it, in the end, and almost entirely because of how it ends. There’s something about Eliot and Thomas Hardy, that way. I don’t think if I had read this five years ago, or anytime before that, I would’ve appreciated the climax and resolution quite so much as I did now. There’s a philosophy here, which is at the core of the novel’s central character, Dorothea, to which I have become quite vested in recent years. It was, then, a delight to see it wrapped up in such a way that resonated with me intimately. Luckily, it also tied together the many diverse but interrelated plots. (This is definitely a country neighborhood; all business is everyone’s business & all stories are connected!) I gave this one a 5 on Goodreads because I couldn’t give it a 4.5. It’s worth the rounding up, though, despite the slog.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg: I loved this essentially Buddhist take on writing not just as a craft, but as a personal life practice. Goldberg tied writing (for writer’s) into every other aspect of daily life and the human outlook in general. There are also some great tips in here that I’ve started to use and will hopefully benefit from (one of which is shared in the Gregory Orr book below, which is to keep a personal notebook on craft). I gave this one a 5 out of 5 even though it didn’t have as much craft advice or writing prompt-type references as I’d hoped because the spirit of it was so enjoyable.
A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry by Gregory Orr: This is an excellent book on what Orr himself labels “craft and quest.” There are ample interesting writing prompts with examples of how they went and/or received in Orr’s own classrooms, but there are also numerous explorations of poetry from Orr’s unique perspective. He focuses entirely on lyric poetry, but the way he defines this and the range (time/type) he uses to explore the genre provides for really ample opportunity to work with a variety of tools and styles. I flagged almost every prompt he includes and have already practiced with one of them, though I hope to work on a number of others in coming weeks. Orr makes an excellent case for why a writer should keep his own small book or file of favorite poems and revisit it every year, cutting and adding, but always remaining highly particular. This is an adventure I will embark on soon. Solid 5 out of 5 for invention and instruction.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas: This trans, queer, Latinx young adult novel was just great. It’s definitely a fun one to read around Halloweentime, I think, since the entire plot unfolds over the few days leading up to, and including, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The story is infused with mystery, suspense, action, superb teenage drama elevated by fantasy (magic), and of course, a delightfully wicked little queer romance. The plot points are a tad predictable and some of the episodic conflict was repetitive, but it was still a beautiful, wild ride. I think, like Middlemarch, I gave this one a 5 but that’s really a 4.5+.
100 Poems by Seamus Heaney: The poems in this collection were such a joy to read. There’s something very inviting about Heaney’s style, even when the poems cover topics that are entirely external to my lived experience. They are gentle and warm, funny and thoughtful. I don’t know that I walked away from this one with any new favorite individual poems, but as a collection of his “best” works covering the entire span of his career, it’s a very good one. It’s just a very good collection, period. Instructive and simply enjoyable.
Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen: This one is being hailed as a Best New Voices and Best Debut novel. It’s not hard to understand why. This is the story of a family (and community) of Vietnamese refugees who find themselves in New Orleans at the end of the American War. Told from three perspectives–a mother and two sons–this realistic historical fiction climaxes into a kind of magical realism as Hurricane Katrina strikes and the world becomes unfathomable. It even made former President Obama’s list of recommended reads for the summer. How about that!? I gave it a solid 4 out of 5.
My latest poems are two of the best I think I’ve ever written. Maybe the best. It’s hard to judge one’s own work, though, and I’ve felt pretty darn sure about certain poems and flash pieces in the past, which are then completely uninteresting to anyone else. So, who knows? I’m happy to note that I do have a poem coming out this November at Broad River Review, and I’m continuing to revise and submit. I recently got a pretty tough rejection from a magazine I’ve been submitting to regularly for years, unsuccessfully. I felt pretty confident about this last submission, so I think it might just be time for me to move on from this publication. Perhaps we’re just not a good fit? Also, my latest DIYMFA column article is live: “Is There a Genre Best Suited to LGBTQ+ Stories? (And why is it Historical Fiction?)”
Austen in August
Unfortunately, this year’s reboot of Austen in August seems unlikely. I’ve only gotten one response to my call for guest posts and giveaways, and I personally am not inclined to write an entire month’s worth of content by myself (also, where’s the fun in that!?) So, I think at this point I’m still going to plan my re-read of Persuasion and invite anyone who wants to read along with me to do so. And of course, everyone is encouraged to continue to pursue their own Austen reading as well! I’ll plan three posts for August 1st, 15th, and 30th, for anyone who does want to engage with all things Austen-related next month. They’ll just be comment conversations.
I have a special giveaway for blog subscribers running from July 5th through July 12th.
As many of you know, I’m not just a reader but also a writer. Naturally, I’m obsessed with good journals and pens, but sometimes that means I get a little bit carried away. It’s alright, though, because YOU get to benefit from my madness and impulsivity!
Anyone who subscribes to this blog and enters the Rafflecopter giveaway is eligible to receive one of four Novel Journals (pictured above) from the Canterbury Classics series. The styles are: Arthur Conan Doyle; Edgar Allan Poe; Oscar Wilde; and Henry David Thoreau.
These journals aren’t just beautifully designed (I love the color schemes!) but the lines on each page are actually the complete text of the author’s work in tiny font. Each journal also has an elastic closing strap, a matching ribbon bookmark, colorized page edges, beautifully illustrated front and back interiors, and a pocket to hold notes or stickers, etc. They’re really quite delightful!
Here’s some more information on the series.
-Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway using the email or WordPress account you use to subscribe to this blog.
-Follow my Twitter and Facebook accounts (linked on the Rafflecopter) for bonus entries.
-Tweet about the giveaway up to once per day (linked on the Rafflecopter) for bonus entries.
-One winner per journal; open internationally. I am not responsible for items lost in the mail and won’t re-send or replace any missing items.
-Winners will be contacted via email and will have 48-hours to reply with their shipping information. If there’s no response within 48-hours, I’ll select a new winner.
Ta-Da! Austen In August is officially BACK at its home site, Roof Beam Reader!
Welcome to the sign-up post for AUSTEN IN AUGUST, an annual reading event celebrating one of literature’s greatest writers! This event was inspired by a Twitter conversation that took place nine years ago between three founders of The Classics Club. That means next year will be our tenth anniversary!
Call for Guest Posts & Giveaways: I am currently looking for people who would like to host/sponsor a giveaway or provide a guest post. If you’re interested in doing either (or both) of these, please fill out this form. One of the reasons this event is so great every year is because of the awesome content provided by our participants and partners – I know this year will be no different! Please submit your participation request by July 15th so that I have plenty of time for scheduling. I’ll be responding as your requests come in and will need all posts/giveaway information before July 31st.
So, why is Jane Austen so interesting? Pemberely explains: “Jane Austen is very resistant to being classified as part of a literary “school”, or being placed in any customarily-defined literary period — partly because none of the obvious available terms, “18th-century, “Romantic”, or “Victorian”, would appropriately describe her. Almost all of the major figures who were literarily active in the period 1800-1837, and who are currently deemed worthy of remembering (i.e. are “canonized”), fall into one of a few categories — either they launched their literary careers before 1800 (Burney, Edgeworth); or they were part of the Romantic movement (or were more or less strongly influenced by romanticism, or wrote in self-conscious reaction to romanticism); or they did most of their writing and publishing after 1837 (e.g. Dickens). Jane Austen is the conspicuous exception who does not fit into any of these categories.”
The Goal: To read as many of Jane Austen’s works (finished or unfinished) as you want or are able to, during the month of August. Biographies, audiobooks, spin-offs, and re-reads also count. I will post throughout the month on different subjects, as well as with my own thoughts on the Austen content I read. We will be offering giveaways, guest posts, and other shenanigans, all of which are meant to inspire a great, interactive event. If you are going to participate, you can read any of Jane Austen’s novels, a biography about her, or any contemporary re-imaginings (such as Austenland or The Jane Austen Book Club, for example). All posts will help you qualify for prizes, which I’ll explain in a later post!
If you want to sign-up to join us as a reader during the Austen in August, simply leave a comment stating such! Maybe include some of the books you hope to read. I will be hosting a read-along of Persuasion for anyone who would like to join me. I also plan to read Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly. I’ve long argued that Austen was more politically aware than people allow; Kelly’s book has received some harsh criticism for suggesting as much. I’m looking forward to reading her arguments to see where we agree or disagree about Austen. I know, for example, we probably agree about the importance of Mansfield Park.
Sign-ups are open throughout the month of July. If you sign-up after July 31st, you can still participate, but may not be eligible for some of the early giveaway prizes. To Share/Discuss on Twitter and Facebook, Use Hashatag #AustenInAugustRBR. Please also post the button somewhere on your blog (maybe in an announcement post or on your blog’s side-bar) so that we can spread the word, gather excitement, and encourage participation. The more of us reading Austen together, the better!
I’ve decided that I’d like to devote my reading time this summer to biography and history. In the last few years, I’ve read a lot of history, particularly “people’s history” or “revisionist” history—you know, those things that are typically left out of traditional education curricula in the United States.
I haven’t devoted specific time to it, though, except in mini-projects, such as Black History Month, etc. And I’ve read so few biographies in general that I began to think I had to change that, especially since there are so many people who interest me. I’ll be reading some literature this summer, too (novels, poetry), but for the most part, I’ve got biography and history on the agenda, and that’s certainly how the month of June turned out. Here’s where I’ve been:
Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (5 out of 5)
This is the first biography by Isaacson that I’ve read. It has certainly encouraged me to read pretty much any others that he’s written. Fortunately, he’s written a bunch on people I’m actually interested in learning more about! He’s got a kind of collection known as “the genius collection” or something like that, which includes Leonardo Da Vinci (read this month, too), Benjamin Franklin, and Steve Jobs. He’s also got another one called The Innovators that looks fascinating, and The Code Breaker, about Jennifer Doudna, also looks great. I found Isaacson a bit repetitive in this one, but it wasn’t so much as to be distracting or annoying. What struck me most about Einstein, through this biography, is how very similar he and I are in personality and politics (leaving aside the genius part, obviously). I knew a little about Einstein’s major achievements, of course, but there is so much more to know, and Isaacson tells the story of his life very well. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately went out and purchased Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson (4 out of 5)
We toss around this word, genius, until its definition is meaningless. I thought I knew Leonardo da Vinci. Don’t we all? We hear about him as children (in my case via The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, first, but never mind) and then throughout our lives. Most of us recognize that he was a true genius, in the sense that is actually meaningful. We’re awed by his art and inspired by his inventions. But it turns out, we knew nothing. I knew nothing. I had not a g-damn clue. I’m not sure I’ve ever finished a book, biography or otherwise, feeling so humbled. And a little bit enraged. What if Leonardo had published his papers? Who and where would we be now? A hundred years more advanced than we are? Two hundred? Goodness gracious! Isaacson’s tendency to be repetitive did get a bit distracting in this one, possibly because he does not arrange this biography in a straight chronology the way he did Einstein’s. Still, it was an edifying and exciting adventure and very much has me wanting to return to The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone’s biographical novel about Michelangelo.
A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski (4 out of 5)
I first read this one back in 2015 or so, while preparing/writing my doctoral dissertation. I’m certain I referenced it once or twice, too. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first text in the “revisionist history” series, and it’s a decent inaugural text for that project. I was and still am disappointed that Bronski ends the history at about 1990, despite the book having been published two decades after that. He explains his reasons for this, but it didn’t change my reaction. So much happened for Queer/LGBTQ+ people between 1990 and 2012, and I think it needed to be represented, too. Otherwise, though, the book is exactly what it says it will be, an illuminating and detailed history of queer people in the United States, from its founding to the AIDS crisis. Those new to LGBTQ+ history will learn a lot from reading this text, some of which will be surprising. We have always been here.
The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty (3 out of 5)
What a gift to witness Joan Didion grow, and grow up. She was always a great writer. She became a great person. I admire no one more than the person who can face the truth and then change because they’ve faced it. I wasn’t a big fan of the style, here, though I do understand the author had to write this without Didion’s cooperation. If you’ve read all of Didion’s work and seen her interviews, there’s not a whole lot to be gained. That said, the detail (which is fairly criticized as being overwhelming) and chronology, and the inclusion of stories happening/lives being lived in close proximity to Didion’s, while at first irritating (as overkill/unnecessary), eventually made a lot of sense. If you’re writing about a writer who is always looking for the threads, why not include the threads? I think we get closer to a truth that way. I’m not sure I can forgive the biographer for disillusioning me about Didion’s personality–oh, we’d have never been very good friends–but it’s safe to say she remains my favorite writer.
DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi (5 out of 5)
I have honestly never read anything like this. I’m not equipped to remark on it. I think I can say, though, that it is perfect for what it is. It’s inventive, powerful, and jarring. There’s visual poetry and traditional poetry, all of which tells and investigates a painful and disturbing period in American history. It challenges us to see and feel what happened, and to recognize that “we” were responsible for it. This is an incredible piece of work.
So, that’s one history, three biographies, and one poetry collection (which is heavily steeped in history and biography). I’m also currently reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen. I might end up finishing one or both of these before June is out, but probably not in time to write anything about them, so if I decide to share some thoughts, they’ll likely come sometime in July.