Feb 112017

I haven’t read, hadn’t even heard of the text being adapted here—Austin’s “Lady Susan” and called a novella in the credits—but watching it, something about this unstoppable woman with her American friend made me imagine Austin writing with Henry James sitting at her elbow whispering in her ear. (Although obviously I hear the echo because she was whispering in his.)

My pleasures here are pretty specific and fully non-literary. I think Kate Beckinsale is great in even her worst movies (and am bothered that everyone else doesn’t), so seeing her in something wonderful is, well, wonderful.

And Tom Bennet’s Lord Martin may be the most perfect comic invention of 2016. His idea of what a good-natured simpleton trying to appear to be a sophisticated nobleman looks like had me in tears. I need a Martin in my gang of friends.

Aug 162015

Northanger AbbeyWhen I lived on the island, I could get to work by foot, bike or metro. The walk was long, the metro could be annoying, the climb up the bridge across the St. Laurence could be brutal on a bike if there was wind. Still the choice between these options made going to work more like an activity than a commute. They were fun.

That all changed when I moved to the country. Now if I want to go to work—and alas I must go—then I have a half-hour or so commute each way. I’d prefer to use the train—because I love the train—but there’s no station within a practical distance from the school. So I drive, thankfully across (rather than with) traffic.

This commute isn’t difficult and I enjoy having the time alone to bracket my day, but after the first few weeks of making the trip, I wondered if listening to books as I drove might be fun. I grabbed an unabridged audiobook of Austin’s Northanger Abbey to see.

Turns out I love audiobooks, I continue to love Austin, and I found myself too often sitting in the parked car, engine off with the radio running on the battery, listening to the last minutes of a chapter. Austin’s telling of Catherine’s story is glorious. The long early description of what Catherine is not, and the later descriptions of her experience at her first ball and, later still, Henry’s guess at what Catherine had hoped Northanger might be stand out. It was a genuinely funny book.

But here’s the thing: the world disappears when I read. It’s always has. And so, I should have expected it when one day, driving down a two lane road, frustrated by Mr Thorpe’s ridiculous lies and with Catherine’s naïve credulity—I was caught up enough that I was speaking aloud, “He’s lying Catherine. He’s lying”—caught up like this, I blew through a stop sign.

Nothing happened. It was a country road. No one was there. I was fine. But things could have gone very badly, and I was rattled. (Later I found out the same thing had happened to one of my sisters. She no longer listens to audiobooks when she drives.)

Well, I didn’t have the option of walking away. Catherine’s Henry and Mr. Thorpe problems weren’t done, and poor Eleanor was alone in the Abbey. …would she ever find a true friend? I needed to know.

So I resolved to pay attention to my attention and not just to the story. If I saw myself starting to disappear, I’d shut off the radio.

It worked, and I finished the book without anymore incidents.

So I do like listening to books as I drive, and want to keep doing it. I need to make one change though: I’m going listen to non-fiction rather than novels. I think that will be easier to manage mentally.

Aug 082015

Sense & SensibilityI’ve never liked Jane Austin’s novels. Every sentence always seemed to be written perfectly straight up and down without passion, cold and severe. I dreaded courses where they were assigned, and I’ve started more of them than I’ve finished.

But a retired teacher had great success with Austin in a program specific course I now teach, and I decided last Fall to assign Sense and Sensibility. I regretted it as soon as I did, but it was too late to change and I was stuck.

Here’s the thing: I loved it. More than loved it, I adored it with giddy enthusiasm. Now I’m reading others, and am wondering how I missed the sarcasm, humour and consistent cleverness when I was reading in university.

And those sentences? They set my head straight.

Rereading is great.