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March’s Classic: The House of Mirth #CBAM2017

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Hello, March! I hope you enjoyed last month’s classic read, The Oedipus Cycle of Sophocles. It’s a new month, which means it is time for a new classic. This month, we’re reading The House of Mirth

Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

17846About the Book: Edith Wharton’s dark view of society, the somber economics of marriage, and the powerlessness of the unwedded woman in the 1870s emerge dramatically in the tragic novel The House of Mirth. Faced with an array of wealthy suitors, New York socialite Lily Bart falls in love with lawyer Lawrence Selden, whose lack of money spoils their chances for happiness together. Dubious business deals and accusations of liaisons with a married man diminish Lily’s social status, and as she makes one bad choice after another, she learns how venal and brutally unforgiving the upper crust of New York can be. One of America’s finest novels of manners, The House of Mirth is a beautifully written and ultimately tragic account of the human capacity for cruelty.

Schedule:

  • March 1st: Begin reading. 
  • March 15th: Check-in here or in our Goodreads group.
  • March 31st: Wrap-Up/Final thoughts here or in our Goodreads group. 

Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat.

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Please Welcome Garrard Conley! #30Authors

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Reviewing Author: Garrard Conley

Book Reviewed: Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones

Intro

#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh.

To see this year’s full line-up, visit www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authors 

Or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

Review

2525792            Adam Mars-Jones’s Pilcrow (Faber and Faber, 2008), a novel about a young English gay boy growing up in the 50’s and 60’s within various slipshod medical institutions, belongs to that rare list of literary works intent on reconstructing and honoring childhood experience. “I wanted to know the proper outside words for things,” narrator John Cromer tells us early in the book. The phrase is the perfect embodiment of psychosexual development à la theorists like Julia Kristeva, signifying a world in which coming of age means entering the clinical world of men, where language is stripped to utilitarian purposes.

Cromer resists the outside world as much as possible even as he is fascinated by it, living within the fantasies and interiority of childhood, illness at times providing a metaphorical and literal cocoon (the Tan-Sad, a complex stroller built for older disabled children, shielding him from the world while also allowing him to explore more of it), though as the narrative progresses and puberty hits, Cromer becomes more and more fascinated by the world of men. And it is exactly within the linguistic border between John’s interior and exterior world that Mars-Jones has crafted a truly unique narrative voice.

In an equally hilarious and tragic scene at the end of the novel, Cromer seeks solace from a mentor who informs him that disabled individuals were once considered sacred by “primitive” societies. True, in a way, the adult narrator cheekily tells us, if you omit the fact that these individuals were prized because of their prime value as human sacrifices. Mars-Jones cues the other shoe to drop almost immediately following one of Cromer’s wishes. Cromer’s desire for human touch leads to a terrifying confrontation in a pool. His sexual curiosity leads to exploitation. Growing up always involves these exchanges, and only after the process is complete can we see just how much tectonic world shifting has occurred—though, as this novel’s nuanced attention to detail reminds its reader, most of us lack the courage to do the math.

Pilcrow belongs to a rich tradition of queer literature dealing with illness and childhood identity, though it is unique in its virtually complete omission of shame. Cromer may be a victim at times, but by the end of the novel he reshapes and repurposes his experiences to fit into a rich interior life that leaves no room for self-loathing.

What better symbol for this than the pilcrow?

About Garrard

Garrard (pronounced without the final ‘r;’ a family oddity) Conley is the author of the memoir, Boy Erased, out from Riverhead (Penguin) May 2016.

His work can be found in TIMEVICECNNBuzzfeed BooksVirginia Quarterly Review, and many others. He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and Elizabeth Kostova Foundation Writers’ Conferences and has facilitated craft classes for Catapult, Grub Street, Sackett Street Writers Workshop, and the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown. If you are interested in contacting him, you can find information here.

After growing up in a small Arkansan farming community, heading to a liberal arts college a few hours away, completing service for Peace Corps Ukraine, and attaining a Master’s degree in creative writing and queer theory, Garrard taught literature in Sofia, Bulgaria at The American College of Sofia. He now lives in Brooklyn and teaches in NYC.

He has way too many coffee cups and never enough coffee.

Many thanks to Garrard for taking time out of his busy schedule to share with us this great review of another author’s work! Fans of Garrard Conley or Adam Mars-Jones, or those newly interested, might also want to join us here in just a few days as we kick off THE LITERARY OTHERS, a month-long event celebrating LGBT History and Literature.

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In piam memoriam

12519909_1467078361.0568On Sunday, June 26th, 2016, my Uncle and Aunt were killed in a car accident. The sudden, unexpected, and violent nature of their passing has been most difficult to deal with. The fact that they leave behind two children, my cousin Alex, a 22-year-old who serves in the U.S. Navy, and Joe, who just celebrated his 18th birthday, makes the loss more cruel.

Given the nature of the accident, it might be very easy to cast judgment on a reckless and guilty party; but I am doing my best to turn my thoughts to happy memories of my Aunt and Uncle, and loving care for my cousins. It is more important to me that they are cared for, now, than that somebody is blamed, even if that might make me feel a bit better, and especially if they deserve the blame.

Wally (54) and Jackie (50) were two people who were impossible to forget. One meeting is all it took. They were wholly and completely alive and in love with life, which makes the fact that they are gone so incredibly confusing. How can two such vivacious, virile personalities be so suddenly extinguished?  I think about the palpable power of their personalities and wrestle with extreme cognitive dissonance: what do you mean I’ll never hear them laugh again?

 13533298_10153693283397196_8422583587147403799_nTo me, they were like second parents when I was growing up. My sister and I even lived with them for a time, while my parents were going through some struggles of their own. Jackie married my Uncle Wally when I was about 10 years old. It was not a happy day for me. For some reason, I took an immediate disliking to Jackie. In fact, I think most of our family did. We were a very close-knit group; we were territorial and, I think, a bit possessive of each other. I certainly felt like she was in some way stealing my Uncle from us. And her personality was so different from ours: she was blunt, direct, unapologetic. She was also confident, smart, and incredibly loving.

Jackie was the one who took me on my first college trip, when I was just 12. I was obsessed with the University of Notre Dame, so she and Wally took me and my Grandma down to the campus to visit and explore. She later somehow managed to get me a personalized message from the then-head coach of Notre Dame football, Lou Holtz. A few years later, she and Wally took me to my first “adult” concert, Shania Twain. It was a belated birthday present, and my first time going to a concert without my parents. Not long after that, when I came out to my family, Jackie immediately invited me over to their house, where she told me that I would be okay, no matter what, and that I would always have a place to go, if I ever needed it. When, years later, my partner and I moved back to Illinois from California, Jackie invited us over and welcomed Jesse with open arms. We didn’t have jobs, yet, and were living with my sister. When no one was looking, Jackie pulled me aside, stuffed a wad of cash in my pocket and whispered in my ear, “just take care of each other.”

Our personality types clashed, our political views clashed, as did our opinions on social issues.  And yet, Jackie was always there for me. She taught me how to Polka. She laughed her ass off when, during a rousing game of Scattergories, I tried to use “Pop Bees” as an insect beginning with the letter “P.” Years later, she was still teasing me about this – she never forgot. Jackie also applauded my every achievement and did her best to keep our extended family together, despite the fact that few of us made any effort at all. Despite what I always saw as a rough exterior, she cared deeply for people, especially her friends and family, and we would all learn that there was nothing she wouldn’t do or give for those who were in need.

12519909_1467386843.7485_funddescriptionMy Uncle Wally. I think it’s fair to say there’s nobody else in the world quite like him. Like Jackie, he had a loud and boisterous – infectious – laugh. At the funeral reception, I kept waiting for him to walk through a door, laughing at something wildly inappropriate. Wherever you were in a house or room, you always knew when Wally was there, too.

Wally would show up to Christmas—imagine, late-December in Chicago—wearing nothing but boxer shorts. He took me to watch him compete in demolition derbies, rode me around on his motorcycle, and was in every way what you would expect a “manly” man to be: rough, calloused, and unafraid to belch or cuss. And he was kind. He was there for every event, large or small; when my car broke down, he would drive from any distance to help. He showed us kids how to fix anything so we wouldn’t have to pay someone else to do it. And when he hugged you, you knew he meant it.

He and Jackie would take me and my sister out of school early on the first nice day of spring so that we could grab Grandma, drive to Wisconsin and hit the lake. Wally was truly adventurous, so completely fearless and unafraid to break the rules, often only figuring out how to do something while in the act of doing it.

When I was finally tall enough to ride rollercoasters, I was still too sheepish to try. Wally was the one who convinced me to go on my first ride. When I say “convinced,” I mean he dragged me kicking and screaming onto the Batman ride at Six Flags Great America, the then-most impressive ride at the park. There was no “easing in” to situations with Wally; it was “just do it” and “do it right the first time.” So, despite my terror, I got on that ride, and I suffered through the loops and twists and turns, the high-flying dangling moments, the upside down whirls and the backwards second pass. And when I got off that ride, I got right back in line. I was hooked, the same way I became hooked on swimming after he threw me into Crystal Lake when I refused to go in myself.

13494964_10208503448776085_120875591721732241_nAround that same time, in another season, Wally also taught me how to ski. And when I say he “taught” me, I mean he strapped me into my boots, rode with me up the ski lift to the top of the bunny hill, pointed me in the right direction and pushed. Again, there were no instructions or directions or tips, except maybe “don’t fall down.” He was a man who embodied the spirit of carpe diem. Seize the day.

Like Jackie, Wally and I officially disagreed on just about everything. Politics, social issues, and even football (a Packers fan in my family – outrageous!). But Wally had a deep and fierce belief in the value of an honest day’s work, like I do. He had a deep and fierce passion for finding joy and laughter in every moment, as I try to do. And he had a deep and fierce love of and devotion to his family, as I do.

In every way that really matters, it seems, my loud, extroverted, and irreverent Aunt and Uncle were exactly the kind of people who quiet, introverted, and manners-driven me tries to be.

DSC_0084-LSome people come into our lives destined to shape who we ourselves will become. I suppose we don’t recognize it in the moment; maybe we’re lucky to ever recognize it at all. I’ve had a week to reflect on everything that these two people meant to me, and the many shared moments. I can count on one hand the people who have molded the direction of my life, who have acted as both inspirations and whetstones to my core values. My Uncle Wally and Aunt Jackie are in that number. I wouldn’t be who I am without the life they helped to shape for me, and I doubt I’ll be the same now that they’re gone.

It’s hard to be left with this question – this haunting why. I don’t think there’s an answer, and I hardly know what to do. I imagine the only thing that can be done, now, is to find a way to honor their lives and memory. To try to live a little bit better. To try to live a little bit freer. To try to give a little bit more love. Because if Wally and Jackie have taught me anything, it’s that there’s never any reason to stop caring, or trying, or loving.

 “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight and everybody goes ‘Aww!’” –Jack Kerouac

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49 Bells

Our college held a vigil for Orlando today. The audience was asked to stand and walk in rows to the stage at the front of the lobby, in order to ring a bell for each person who died in the Orlando massacre.

I thought for sure that I was sitting far enough back, that I wouldn’t have to ring that bell.

1 chime…5 chimes…20…40….49.

I was number 49.

49 bells. 49 innocent people dead.

49 people is so very many people, when you really see it. When you picture them all gone.

And I was devastated. I did not want to ring that bell. But then I turned around to walk off that stage, and I saw a hundred more people bearing witness. A hundred allies. A hundred good people, coming together at a small college in a suburb a thousand miles away from Orlando to say, “we hear you. We see you. We’re with you.”

And in the echo of that last chime, I thought, “this is the only answer.”

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Jane Austen and the Art of Walking

Jane Austen & The Art of Walking

by

Adam Burgess

http://www.roofbeamreader.com

(One of the most interesting motifs in Austen’s works is “the walk” or “the journey.” Jane Austen was herself very fond of walking, and she also enjoyed creating heroines who would find numerous occasions to take a stroll, either by themselves or in company.

28244As Dorothy Wordsworth noted in a letter dated 1792, walking was “both socially and spatially the widest latitude available to women contained within these social strictures, the activity in which they find a chance to exert body and imagination.”

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that some of the most important moments in Jane Austen’s novels do take place during, or are in a way inspired by, a walk. What is different about Austen’s heroines, however, is their willingness to flout social decorum in terms of when, how, how far, and with whom to walk. This is particularly true in Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.

Pride and Prejudice:

The following is an extract from Pride and Prejudice. In the scene, Miss Bingley comments on the fact that Elizabeth Bennet has walked all the way from her house at Longbourn to Netherfield, and in bad weather nonetheless:

“’She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.’

‘She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!’

‘Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office.”

‘Your picture may be very exact, Louisa, said Bingley; ‘but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice.’

‘You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure,’ said Miss Bingley; ‘and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition.’

‘Certainly not.’

‘To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.’

‘It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing,’ said Bingley.

‘I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,’ observed Miss Bingley, in a half-whisper, ‘that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.’

‘Not at all,’ he replied; ‘they were brightened by the exercise.’” (Austen 26)

ppv3n56bThis streak of independence in Elizabeth, and its demonstration of her care for her sister, is what will stoke the initial spark in Darcy’s eyes. Later in the book, important walks will take place again. In Chapter 56, for instance, Lady Catherine visits the Bennet family and shares surprising and crucial information with Elizabeth during their stroll together.

Later, Mr. Darcy comes to visit and the entire cast takes a walk, but Elizabeth and Darcy separate from the group. This gives them the opportunity to advance their relationship, after Elizabeth expresses her gratitude for Darcy’s help in the embarrassing and unfortunate “Lydia situation.” In the next chapter, the two will promenade once more, after which Darcy decides the time is right to seek Mr. Bennet’s consent to wed Elizabeth.

Thus, the walks are crucial to the story. Not only do they set Elizabeth apart from other women of the time, within and external to the story, by demonstrating her independence and progressive nature vis-à-vis her willingness to walk “inappropriately,” but the walking spaces also provide opportunities to advance the plot.

darcy-and-lizzy-2The only other narrative device to rank as highly in importance is, perhaps, the epistolary moments that allow for characters’ true feelings to be explained in straightforward fashion (something Darcy, especially, is apparently incapable of doing in person!). It is the walk, however, which in this novel (and others, such as Persuasion), allows for and gives rise to character growth and development.

Ultimately, walking in Austen’s narrative spaces accomplishes three important things: It creates the opportunity for important conversation; it allows a heroine to observe and reflect on her situation, possibilities, and future; and it lets the characters respond to the world around them. Whether it is Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy or Anne and Captain Wentworth, the walk is, above all, a chance to clear the air between courting characters and to progress the romantic elements of the plot.

 

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Hello, Readers!

In 2014, I was fortunate to have received dozens and dozens of books, from publishers, friends, authors, and contests. Among all of these acquisitions, however, were a number of duplicates.

So, in 2015, I’ve decided to feature one of these duplicate books each month, and offer that book as a giveaway to one of you! Yes, it’s The Year of Giveaways!

This month, the spotlight is on: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer


18143977Description:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

If you would like to win a copy of this highly acclaimed book, here’s what you need to do:

Rules:

  • Must be an e-mail or WordPress subscriber.
  • –Must be 13+ with parental permission if under 18.
  • –Winners must respond to e-mail within 48-hours or new winner selected.
  • –Winners chosen randomly through Rafflecopter.
  • -Giveaway ends at 11pm Central Time (USA) on the last day of the month.

Enter by Completing This Rafflecopter Form

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Book Blogger Book Swap Round 1

I’m participating in an awesome event called “The Book Blogger Book Swap” which is hosted by Allie of A Literary Odyssey.

A few times a year, we are partnered (anonymously) with another participating blogger to exchange a package of books + other goodies, based on a short survey we each filled  out (wish list items, favorite things, books we want to buy, etc.)

unnamedThe first round is currently underway and I’ve received my package from Melissa at Stage Write! Melissa is another one of the co-moderators of The Classics Club and we have known each other as book bloggers for a number of years, so I was thrilled to receive this package from her!  She picked three books from my wish list, including The Art of War, a collection of plays by Tennessee Williams, and A Brief History of Nearly Everything, all of which I’ve wanted to read for a long time!

IMG_20150801_225634In addition, she sent me these awesome fantasy fiction-themed candles, including one from Harry Potter (Hagrid’s Pumpkin Patch) and one from The Hunger Games (Pita’s Cakes). The pumpkin one smells JUST LIKE PUMPKINS, which is awesome because I love everything about autumn. Peet’s candle smells a lot like cinnamon rolls combined with sugar cookies…. frankly, it’s making me really hungry! Haha. Thank goodness she also included chocolate covered almonds for me to munch on! (I LOVE chocolate and I eat almonds every single day…so, hello! Winner!)

IMG_20150802_144717Melissa also sent me this adorable cake topper because she knows I’m getting married later this year (in October – see – autumn!). We actually hadn’t yet picked out a cake topper, so yay! What a thoughtful gift!

I’m still in the process of compiling my secret book swap pal’s gift box, so I can’t say too much about that yet, but I hope she ends up as happy with hers as I am with mine! This is such an awesome experience, and it’s a great group of people, too.

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