Category Archives: Books and Literature

Those things I love to read …

Persuasion by Jane Austen, a Re-Read

Persuasion by Jane AustenAfter spending a great deal of my recent free time reading non-fiction, I found myself in the mood for something more immersive. I re-read both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in 2017 thanks to a local hurricane, but I never connected as much with Austen’s other novels. I decided, however, to give Persuasion another chance, and I’m very glad I did. Looking back at my old review, I read the book at the exact same time of year, which is an interesting coincidence.

I don’t remember liking the book much, but reading it again, I definitely enjoyed it more the second time through. I sympathize a lot more with Anne Elliot’s plight than I did the first time. I had forgotten, really, that she has such an unlikable family; Sir Walter is vain, Elizabeth is a snob, and Mary won’t stop pretending to be sick. Anne’s mother dies before the text begins, and it’s implied that she would have kept her daughters from growing up to be so foolish (sort of a reverse Mrs. Bennet). Anne is almost the Pride & Prejudice Mary of the text, except she gets to fall in love, which I really appreciate, because I feel a bit bad for P&P Mary. (Also, what did Austen have against people named Mary?) Anne is underrated by her family, but has her late mother’s friend, Lady Russell, looking out for her. Unfortunately, Lady Russell looks out for her a touch too much, and persuades (get it?) her to back out of an engagement, which Anne regrets. Anne is trying to ‘do the right thing’ in the time before the novel, and when the novel starts, she is very much the worse for wear thanks to it. Lesson: Always look out for number one, ladies!

Anne’s family is pushed into financial troubles by Sir Walter’s incompetence; he is forced to rent his estate, and Anne get casually pushed out of the household in the process. This ends up being great for her because, as it turns out, two walks on the beach and spending time with anyone nice is all is takes to restore her beauty. It also lands her in much better company in general, and her ex-fiance, Wentworth, shows up, too. He tries to fall in love with Louisa Musgrove, but she throws herself down a flight of stairs like a dingus, and falls on her head. Since Wentworth was too charming near her, he is obliged to marry her, even though she’s the type of person who will just leap into the air expecting to be caught. Immodest! Facing a real predicament, Wentworth is saved by Louisa herself, who falls in love with a brooding young man whose wife had just died like six months ago. Move on faster, why don’t you? Everyone agrees that the poor, deceased young woman deserved better, but also that the bump on the head made Louisa a much better person, so that’s good enough.

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Book Reviews of 2003

File this post under blasts from the past(s). As my 10 years blogiversary approached last year, I was feeling nostalgic about my old, hand-coded website, so of course I looked it up on the Wayback Machine. I was braced for something really amazing, and instead I found a website with roughly ten book reviews and three recipes on it. Below you will find the un-edited book reviews from 2003 aka most of my website back then (spoiler alert: they’re kind of pretentious). I hope someone on the internet finds them useful someday.

The Rise of the New Woman by Jean V. Matthews

The Rise of the New Woman by Jean V. MatthewsThis book was released just recently (May or June 2003) and I picked it up while browsing the new releases in the library at school. I’m fairly good with early American feminist theory and this looked to be more of a historical book which is why it caught my eye. I was impressed pretty much right away, it’s a really easy read but at the same time it’s not dumb’d down or artificially zazzed. The book begins with the struggle to vote and ends in the first anti-feminist backlash after the vote was won, making it a really great cultural study of Feminism’s first wave.

The great thing about it was that even though it would be a perfect introduction for a new Feminist, it’s still great for people who know a little about theory because it really covers American culture in a more holistic, pop culture oriented kind of way. For example the implications of fashions trends at the turn of the century are closely analyzed, it’s easy to forget that at one time having a skirt you could walk in and a shirt you didn’t sew yourself was the trademark of a liberated woman. In other words: it includes the little things that you really miss if you only read theory or are completely ignored if you only read contemporary feminist texts. All of the major thinkers, movers and shakers in the movement are also in the book. They’re covered in a way that will familiarize newbies without boring seasoned Feminists like myself (snicker). Par example, did you know Charlotte Perkins Gilman thought that sex, as in the biological function, was completely undesirable? It’s true!

A lot of the antifeminist backlash post suffrage was because the next issue on the agenda was birth control. It ended up alienating most older feminist and almost all of the southern women who turned their efforts to the church or the KKK. It’s things like this that are left out of textbooks and are assumed in theory so I would definitely and absolutely recommend this book to any student of feminism no matter their skill level.

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Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction by Malcolm Gaskill

Slang: A Very Short Introduction Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction by Malcolm Gaskill is the fourth book in the series that I’ve read and the 228th published in the series overall. The series is massive, so I feel like there’s a never-ending stream of interesting books flowing my way. Witchcraft is a particular favorite, and I liked it even more than my most recent read, Slang. The older illustrations that were selected are especially entertaining because they show the way that witches were imagined in the 16th and 17th centuries. Oddly one illustration, Hendy Fuseli’s The Nightmare, is captioned as having a “wild-eyed horse,” but the horse is clearly a ghost. At least to me, but I’m not seeing a second interpretation possible there. Along with illustrations and paintings are photographs, too, including one of a witches’ bottle from 2004 and a really funny one of a medium from 1930 ‘channeling’ a spirit into what looks to be a trash bag with a face drawn on it by a child.

The ‘witch-bottle’ that’s discussed is particularly interesting to me because it was buried upside-down and included nails, pins, hair, fingernail clippings, urine, and a pierced leather heart. The author continues “whether it was intended as protection against witchcraft or the means to reverse a spell, we’ll never know” (34). Why would they never know? Maybe ask a modern witch, you know, one that’s alive. I don’t mean to alarm any muggles out there, but witch bottles are still super common. That it was buried upside down may or may not have been intentional. Pins and nails are common protection items that would be universal to tons of witch bottles in existence today, not just historically, specifically ones to protect a home or person. Further, the nails, hair, and urine obviously belong to a person; it’s likely to belong to one person, and equally likely to belong to the person who created the bottle. Finally, the leather heart is pierced by presumably a pin or nail (why Gaskill doesn’t specify I don’t know, and I wish he had) seems to indicate heartbreak or pain. I posit that the witch bottle discovered was made to protect the creator from the pain of heartbreak, or to break the influence of heartbreak on that person. I suppose it could be to inflict heartbreak on someone else, or give them a heart attack, but they would need to DNA test the bottle. Whose DNA is on it, and is it all the same person? Because that’s actually really important. I don’t know a non-awkward way to explain this so I’ll just say it: I know all this stuff because I’m a witch. A practicing modern witch who picks up rusty nails when she sees them to make, you guessed it, witch bottles.

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Slang: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathon Green

Slang: A Very Short IntroductionSlang: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathon Green was the third book I’ve read from the AVS series. It was my ‘purse book’ for the better part of three months, which I read piecemeal in waiting rooms and the like. This book, like the whole VSI series, is very academic in style, and is written for academics. Having left grad school around a year and a half ago, it took me a few chapters to warm up, but then it was fine. However, it definitely will not make for good reading if you aren’t used to that style.

The book traces slang throughout time, complete with ye olde illustrations, but at points it feels a little dry (considering the subject matter). Some parts are extremely interesting, however, and I enjoyed reading it on the whole. The author is basically forced to deal with Urban Dictionary, but refuses to acknowledge its validity (at least in part, since it is ‘peer reviewed’ with the up/down voting). Even though the author won’t say it’s valid, he also won’t leave it out of the book, so it felt awkward. Near the end he makes points about regional and family slang that are very interesting, and it got me thinking about slang that’s used inside my family unit. It’s something that I’d never really thought about before. The chapters and sections are not broken up in a way that it can be used easily in a college classroom (in my opinion, anyway, and that way my original reason for picking it up), but it’s a good read nonetheless.