It’s Banned Books Week; You Know What To Do

Recognize any of these book titles?

Each of these books was banned or under consideration to be banned in the United States of America.

If you love to read, you already know about the transformative power of books.

You also know how to take a book from a store shelf, skim the first few pages, and put it back as you say to yourself, “No, that book’s not for me.”

And yet there are people in this world who want to take that experience away; people who want to substitute their own judgment for yours, and tell you what you can and should read.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks challenged and banned books, and has some interesting statistics and graphics on the topic, which you can view on their website.

You can also visit BannedBooksWeek.org to see a schedule of events and read-alongs being held this week.

Banned Books Week may seem like an obscure cause to celebrate, but for me it’s an important one. Among other things, it serves as a reminder to me to support authors who have been challenged—and sometimes vilified—for writing the stories that were in their hearts.

I hope you’ll join me and tune in to Banned Books Week, and celebrate your right to read the books you love.

 

 

 

 

A Georgian Staycation

Yesterday I went to the dentist, which was pretty exciting when you consider it’s the only planned outing I’ve had during the entire month of August.

With the exception of a couple of visits with my son and grand-dog, weekly trips to the grocery store, and daily walks for fresh air and exercise, I have made it my mission to stay at home, where I know it’s safe.

But that mission may soon change. My home state has been documenting a promising trend: a decline in the number of new COVID19 cases, as well as hospitalization rates. I see that as a good sign, and I wonder: Come September or October, will it be safe to venture out a bit further afield than the one square mile that surrounds my house?

I’m not thinking about taking a “real” vacation or heading off to some crowded resort, but if things continue to improve, a staycation might be in order. I could take my cue from Jane Austen, who knew all about staycations.

A view of Bywell Castle, Northumberland, by George Fennel Robson.

When Jane Austen began writing Pride and Prejudice in 1796, Europe was at war. British citizens were cut off from their usual tourist destinations on the Continent. If they wanted to travel, they had to be content with exploring the architecture and delights of nature to be found at home.

Whitton, by Humphry Repton.

That may be why Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner chose a pleasure tour of the Lake District for their summer travels in Pride and Prejudice, and they invited Elizabeth Bennet to come along.

Elterwater and Langdale Pikes, Westmoreland.

Other Britains had similar ideas. It soon became the popular thing to stay in England and visit spa towns and seaside resorts, the Lake and Peak Districts, Devon and Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.

Hillsborough Head near Ilfracombe, Devon, by John Frederick Tennant.

From all those domestic staycations sprouted a new industry: travel guides. One guidebook by Thomas West became a best seller.

Title Page for A Guide to the Lakes by Thomas West (1778)

West not only provided directions on how to reach some of the most popular destinations, he made a practice of describing “stations” where tourists could achieve the best and most picturesque views of landscapes and stately homes. Here’s one example:

Proceed through rocky fields and groves to Holker, one mile, the seat of the right honourable Lord George Cavendish; the carriage road is by Cark-Hall. At the top of the hill, there opens a fine view of Furness. Holker-Hall lies at your feet, embosomed in wood; on the left Ulverston bay opens into the great bay and is four miles over. The coast is deeply indented, and the peninsulas are beautifully fringed with wood.

Just as Elizabeth and the Gardiners set off “in pursuit of novelty and amusement” in Pride and Prejudice, Georgians flocked to to the countryside, where they visited monasteries and medieval ruins.

Tintern Abbey, by Frederick Calbert.

Derbyshire was particularly popular with tourists because it offered stately homes (like Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall) with the unmatched scenery of the Peaks.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

Some grand estates received so many visitors they printed their own pamphlets so people could take self-guided tours. And historical sites, like Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge, suffered when overly enthusiastic visitors chipped off pieces of stone to take home as souvenirs.

A view of Stonehenge, 1744.

If things keep going well in my home state, I just might take a page out of Jane Austen’s proverbial tour book and plan a staycation of my own.

I think I’ll start small and visit a place that isn’t too far from home. How does an afternoon at the zoo sound to you?

Change is Good

As if 2020 hasn’t already proved that anything can (and will!) happen, I’ve made yet another life change!

Earlier this week I made the decision to leave Austen Authors.

I anticipate the posts I wrote for that site will soon be deleted, but if you enjoyed them, fear not. I’ll be re-posting them here on my blog in the near future. Stay tuned!

Pride and Prejudice and My Fantasy Library

I’ve been pretty quiet here on my blog for the last few months, but there’s a reason for that (as the saying goes). Today I’m on Austen Authors talking about a big life change I made and how it impacts one of my favorite fantasies. Just click on the image below to read on:

Lydia Bennet: She’s Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No

Hello, Austen Lovers! Can you believe the month of May is coming to an end? Sometimes it seems time is passing so slowly; and yet, we’re nearing the half-way mark of 2020 with surprising speed!

In my home state of Colorado we are still living under quarantine rules, although some restrictions have been relaxed. Now we can visit a salon to get a haircut (which I haven’t yet done, so I’m rockin’ a ponytail), and this week restaurants opened with serious limitations.

Since I have an underlying health condition to consider, I am still staying at home, where I know I’ll be safe. To pass the time, I’ve worked jigsaw puzzles, painted the entire interior of my house, and brushed up on my conversational Spanish skills.

I re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, and last week I watched a favorite old Hollywood musical, Oklahoma!

Now, maybe I’ve been under quarantine too long, but I hadn’t watched the movie for very many minutes before I began to notice elements of the story that reminded me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

If you haven’t yet seen it yet, the film centers on the romance between farmer Laurey Williams and cowboy Curly McLain in 1907 Oklahoma Territory.

Curley and Laurey, singing their hearts out in Oklahoma!

As usual, their course of true love does not run smooth, due in part to a socially outcast farmhand named Jud Fry, who has the hots for Laurey. I confess he reminded me of Mr. Collins’ pursuit of Elizabeth Bennet, especially when Laurey says of Jud:

“He makes me shiver ever’ time he gits close to me.”

In the film, Laurey has a good friend named Ado Annie Carnes, a boy-crazy farmer’s daughter who loves cowboy Will Parker, but can’t stop herself from seeking attention from other men.

As Ado Annie explains to Laurey: “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no.”

Wasn’t that Lydia Bennet’s problem, too? Both Ado Annie and Lydia where raised in good families, and both were taught right from wrong. Yet when Ado Annie sang these lyrics in Oklahoma!, I couldn’t help but think of Lydia Bennet:

It ain’t so much a question of not knowin’ what to do
I knowed what’s right an’ wrong since I’ve been ten.
I heared a lot of stories an’ I reckon they are true
About how girls are put upon by men.

I know I mustn’t fall into the pit
But when I’m with a feller
I fergit!

A few verses later, Ado Annie chirps:

Ev’ry time I lose a wrestlin’ match.
I have a funny feelin’ that I won!

Despite her love for Will Parker, Ado Annie juggles a romance with Ali Hakim, the traveling peddler who promises to take Annie “to paradise.” But what Ali really means is, he wants Ado Annie to spend a few hours with him in a hotel room in the next town.

Ali Hakim, Ado Annie, and Will Parker.

Just as Lydia Bennet thought there wouldn’t be any harm in running off with Mr. Wickham, Ado Annie considers joining Ali Hakim on that trip to “paradise” he promised. And when her father finds out about it, and realizes Ali has compromised his daughter, Mr. Carnes forces him to offer Ado Annie marriage.

Ali put it this way:

I wanted to marry her when I saw the moonlight shining on the barrel of her father’s shotgun.

Shades of P&P! Lydia Bennet had a sort of shotgun wedding of her own after she ran off to London with Mr. Wickham; and, just like Ado Annie, Lydia was shameless in telling everyone she knew how her wedding came about, causing Elizabeth to scold her:

I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.

I won’t give away the ending of Oklahoma! for those who haven’t seen it, but since it’s a Hollywood musical from the 1950s, you can be sure there are plenty of happy endings to go around, just like in P&P.

And this weekend, I plan to treat myself to another old movie—most likely a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical from the 1930s.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Swing Time (1936).

I wonder if I’ll spot some parallels to Austen’s novels in that movie, too?

Are you like me? Do you see bits of your favorite Jane Austen novels in our modern movies and TV shows?

Do you have favorite movies you like to watch over and over again?

The Magic of 45 Words

It’s often said that a simple act of kindness can make a tremendous difference in a person’s life. I’m here to tell you it’s true.

“Kindness” doesn’t have to come in large gestures. You don’t have to donate a million dollars to a charity to be considered kind.

In fact, I’d argue the greatest acts of kindness come in small, bite-size, everyday doses that take only a moment or two of the giver’s time, but make all the difference in the life of the recipient.

Here’s what I mean:

As an author, I had a pretty good 2019 (more about that in my next post), but toward the end of the year I was laboring to finish a Regency romance. I started out liking it very well, and I made good progress on my word count and finished scenes.

But once I’d written about 80% of the book, I started to have serious doubts that anything I’d written was even passably good. Then I began to tell myself the same things I always tell myself about my stories:

“This is horrible.”

“No one wants to read this.”

“If anyone does read this, they’ll hate it, and give it a one star review, and I’ll never sell another book again.”

But this time those self-doubts wouldn’t go away. I started to fret and worry about the characters, the plot, and the setting of the story. Every time I sat down to write, I felt as if I were slogging through knee-deep mud. I struggled to type even a sentence. I felt as if the book would never be done and I seriously considered abandoning it.

Then, right after the New Year I received this direct message on Twitter:

I can assure you without hesitation this message is one of the best late Christmas presents I ever received.

Ever!!

I don’t know how long it took the sender to compose her message. Seconds maybe? Perhaps minutes?

But her kind words of encouragement and thanks meant so much to me, and put me right back on track.

And guess what? I finished the book! That reader’s kindness worked like magic in helping me regain my writer’s mindset so I could complete the story I was working on. I will always be grateful to her.

I’m also on the look-out for opportunities to spread my own version of a kind word to another author; to tell her (or him) how much I enjoyed her book and look forward to reading her next one.

I’m not talking about leaving an anonymous book review, although they’re important (every writer knows our careers live and die by some mysterious book review algorithm that no one understands). Instead, I’m talking about actually reaching out to another writer directly. And every time I do so, I’ll have in the back of my mind the Twitter message I received and the difference it made for me.

How about you? Have you ever been the recipient of a simple act of kindness that made a big difference in your life?

Guys Who Read

In this post I’m going way to take a break from my usual Regency/Jane Austen topics, and linger a while in our modern world.

If you’ve been following me on this blog or on social media, you already know I love to read.

I always seem to have a book in my hand, or in my purse, or in my car, so I can make ready use of any free moment to get “just one more chapter” in.

About a week ago I realized something odd: When I think of avid readers, my mind naturally goes toward women. When I want to talk about a book, I talk about it with my girlfriends.

When I think of book clubs, I gravitate toward book clubs made up of women.

But the truth is, men read a lot, too.

Want proof? There’s an Instagram account titled “Hot Dudes Reading” you need to visit.

The account is aptly named. I didn’t have to scroll far to find plenty of examples of attractive men with books in their hands.

There are photos of military guys reading . . .

And guys reading in libraries.

There are photos of dudes reading while listening to music …

… and others who read while lowering their carbon footprint.

Some of my favorite photos are of guys who clearly get into the books they’re reading. They show it by biting their nails . . .

. . . secretly wiping away a tear . . .

. . . and holding the book a little closer as the story gets tense.

And then there’s this dude:

What could be sexier than a handsome guy reading a book while taking flowers to someone he loves?

The answer is this guy:

Oh, my heart! Yes, he is definitely a “hot dude reading,” and I’m a little bit in love with his pup, too.

I’d like to point out that viewing the photos on this Instagram account expanded my thinking considerably. I’m now much more aware of the fact that women don’t hold a monopoly on reading good books; and the next time there’s an opening in my book club, I’m going to suggest a guy fill it.

If you’d like to expand your horizons, too, and see more photos of Hot Dudes Reading, click on the link below:

 

10 Books that Changed My World

During the long winter months I keep my house closed up to ward off the cold; but once the days get longer and the temps get warmer, I open up the house and begin my annual spring cleaning ritual.

I also start a “donate” box, where I collect clothes and household items I no longer use or need.

And every year I stand in front of my bookshelves and try to decide whether I should, could or can bring myself to add one of the books in my collection to the “donate” box.

It’s a hard decision, but I always manage to cut a few books from the herd and add them to the box.

Of course, there are some books in my collection that have had such a profound impact on me, I would never consider giving them away.

Here, in no particular order, are the top ten fiction books that changed my life:

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I was twelve years old when I first read Pride and Prejudice, and it (and the author) have held a special place in my heart ever since. I can’t explain why this book touched me so deeply, except that it has everything I want in a novel: humor, tragedy, mystery, adventure, travel, romance, suspense, villains, heroes, and a heroine who represents the ideal young woman I often wish I could be more like.

Besides that, it’s just a darn good love story.

My tattered, well-worn copy of P&P.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

When I was a kid, as far back as I could remember, there was always a copy of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our bookcase at home. They were a set that belonged to my mother, which she purchased together when she was twenty years old.

I began reading Jane Eyre one summer afternoon when I was in middle school because I had nothing else to do, and ended up enthralled by a world of mystery and romance. At the center of the story was a plucky young woman with whom I strongly identified. Jane may not have had grand plans for her life, but knew who she was, and she was always true to herself—and that was the lesson I took from the novel.

Yes, this is the cover of my copy of Jane Eyre. This edition contains reproductions of the creepy but compelling original woodcut illustrations.

Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer.

This was the first book I read in which the author built an entire world that was previously unknown to me. I was captivated by the language, the manners, the wit, and the active, multi-layered plots Heyer created.

Regency Buck was only the first of Heyer’s books I read; it didn’t take long for me to scoop up all her other titles, too. They’ve held a place of honor on my book shelves ever since, and I reread at least one of her novels every year.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

First, the story contained in the pages of this novel is wonderful. Second, Lee’s writing style is magnetic. But the lessons I learned in this book about life and courtesy and how to treat other people have stayed with me since I first read this classic in high school. It’s one of the few books I read regularly every couple of years.

How Green was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn

I was eleven years old when I discovered this beautifully written gem in my school’s library. I checked it out for one capricious reason: the borrowing card was clean—no one had checked the book out before, and I decided I wanted to be the first.

I took it home and read it. I was so touched by the story of the Morgan family, and their simple, honest ways that How Green was My Valley instantly became one of favorite books. In fact, I checked it out of the library so often, the librarian questioned me about it after the fifth or sixth time. But that’s how good this book is; I just couldn’t get enough of it then, and now that I have my own copy, it enjoys a permanent place on my keeper shelf.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.

A friend at church handed me this book and said, “You have to read this.” So I did. Then I read the rest of the series, and spent endless hours talking with my friends at church about the symbolism and metaphors and meanings in the book. Then we’d seize on passages in the novel and search our Bibles for scripture to reinforce the point we thought the author was trying to make. In a sense, this book taught me and my friends how to exchange ideas, make our arguments, and research on the fly.

Add to that the fact that the book is (on the surface) a wonderfully written story of adventure and good versus evil, and it easily earns a place on my top ten list of all-time classics that everyone should read at least once in their life.

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dosteyevsky

When I first read Crime and Punishment, I had no idea it was written in 1866. To me, it could have been written in 1910, 1940, or even 1960; the story is that timeless.

This novel reads like a mystery, although there’s really no mystery here; we know from the outset that the main character commits murder. The author’s master stroke is the way in which he manipulates our emotions about the murderer. Should we hate him? Root for him? Feel compassion for him? That’s part of the mystery!

From this novel I learned a lot about human nature: that the face people present to you may not represent who they really are; that good people do bad things; that remorse doesn’t always lead to redemption or even forgiveness.

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

This is not a children’s book. I read it in high school, again in my twenties, and a couple more times since then. The odd thing about this book is that no matter when I read it, it seems to present a commentary on the current state of affairs in the world at the time. On the surface, it’s an entertaining story. In reality, it’s a warning about what can happen when we ignore what first appears to be a  gentle, slight slope of moral decay.

If you haven’t read it yet, I don’t want to give the story away; but I think it’s a book that everyone should read today, right now, this minute.

Testimony of Two Men, by Taylor Caldwell

This is the book that made me think, “I’d like to write a novel like this someday.”

Taylor Caldwell doesn’t just write, she paints word pictures that bring her stories to life. From the settings, to the clothing and furniture, she draws me into her books and lets me see what her characters see and experience.

In Testimony of Two Men Caldwell’s skills are on full display. It has everything I love in a novel: family drama, an engaging hero, doomed romance, and tidbits about the time period that are skillfully woven into the story. My well-worn copy is on my keeper shelf.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

My mother read Little Women to my sisters and me when we were young. We were four sisters, so it was easy for us to identify with the March sisters. I remember that I wanted to be as pretty as Meg, as brave as Jo, as gentle as Beth, and as talented as Amy.

My mother read to us from the very same book she read when she was young; it was given to her by her Aunt Helen at Christmas in 1936. My mother had just turned twelve years old. As she read to us, it was clear how much she loved this novel and the characters’ stories.

My mother was a busy woman, who always worked full-time outside the home when we were growing up; and when she got home at night, there were meals to prepare, cleaning to do, an ill husband to nurse, and a million other cares and worries for her to tend to. When I think of all she was up against, I cherish my memories of the time she took to read Little Women aloud to us.

I have to admit, there are many more novels I considered for this list; but in the end, these are the books that really spoke to me. They changed my thinking and my outlook on life and how I wanted to live it. They taught me about strength of character, honesty, and standing up for what is right; about love and commitment, and enjoying life’s simple pleasures along the way.

What about you? Have you ever read a book that made a profound impact on you? Please share it!

Mr. Darcy: A Man with a Plan

Hello, and a happy weekend to you!

Today I’m posting on the Austen Authors blog, talking about Jane Austen movie adaptations. Do you know, some of my favorite scenes in 1995’s “Pride and Prejudice” never appeared in Jane Austen’s original novel!

Here’s a hint about one of those scenes:

I hope you’ll join me at Austen Authors and share your favorite movie scenes, too! Just click on the image below.