This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

'Me and Mr Darcy' and I - comment, with possible spoilers, on new novel

And, now, an example of a good idea gone wrong...

Originally, when I heard the title to this new book by Alexandra Potter, I had a thought - Why isn't it called 'Mr.Darcy and I'? That's more musical, I thought, and more polite. One doesn't say, "Me and Darcy are going for a walk." One says,"Darcy and I are going for a walk," both for grammar reasons and for those of politeness. But I didn't realize that the title was the least impolite thing about this book.

Jane Austen brings to mind thoughts of elegance and good taste. And one would expect a novel which derives its story, its very existence, from the writings of Austen to have in its language, in its tone, a reflection of that elegance and good taste. Not here.

Vulgarity is on practically every page. It comes in the form of lewd references and swears, and the very un-Austen-like personality of the protagonist Emily Albright, whom the reader is meant at some moments to believe is prim and proper. For the rest of the novel she's got the mind, if not the mouth, of the proverbial sailor....Okay, that's harsh - but it was very discordant with the idea of Austen.

Everything from the sex-crazed assistant of bookstore manager Albright to the unnecessary bluntness of sexual references was cheap and gauche. All right, not everything....that's what's tragic about the book, if I'm not being too dramatic -'Me and Mr. Darcy'could have been good.

On that scale of 1 to 10 that everyone refers to, I give it a 4. And I'm not even that reluctant to do so despite the admittedly engaging storyline of woman meeting Mr. Darcy and her romantic adventures.

I can forgive the fact that the book is riddled with subtle Britishisms that an American would ordinarily not use and so are incongruous to the main character, supposedly a true New Yorker. That's minor. But the ugliness of some of the language just lingers and can not be waved away as if it were some unimportant detail. And then there is the superficiality of particularly the main character, putting down others, such as boyfriends, for tired and off-putting reasons like wearing pleated pants or living with one's mother. It's just not interesting and it's irritating. It would be so much more interesting to read of a protagonist that valued and reflected worthier feelings. So much less explored in literature today and, therefore, so much more apt to deliver an engaging and refreshing character.

There is a predictability in the story, as well, but then with which Austen-inspired novel today isn't there a predictability? One always knows there will be a Wickham, an Elizabeth, a Darcy. Nonetheless, the predictability here is pronounced. This novel does have the added dimension of a 'real' Darcy in it which makes the book,in at least one aspect, unique.

Ranting aside, there was, as I said before, an engaging side to 'Me and Mr. Darcy.' And this despite its meager 4 points perhaps, just perhaps, makes it a book worthy of reading. There is an enchanting end to one of the storylines which is charming. In the interest of not spoiling the ending for those who want to read the novel, I will not give away the ending.

In the middle of the book the protagonist Albright has a couple of occasions on which she describes certain foods as disgusting but delicious. Originally, it was a hard idea to get my mind around. But, now, I see....the same could sort of be said about this novel.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A literary love story...

It was love at first sight as I stood in the bargain book section of a cavernous discount warehouse store and gazed at the cover of Heaven to Betsy written by Maud Hart Lovelace in the early part of the twentieth century.

It was with the front cover of the paperback that I was first smitten: the cover was designed with a piece missing which revealed a drawing on the page below of a turn-of-the-century high-schooler walking amidst falling leaves and brick buildings. I bought the young adult book, if only for the artwork of the cover. It was, after all, a bargain and this was a picture I could even frame.

I began reading and realized that during my youth I had overlooked a great opportunity for a rich literary experience. The first few pages told me how I would have enjoyed the early 1900s setting; the themes of literature and of writing; the main character, Betsy Ray.

I found out that Heaven to Betsy is part of a series of Betsy books that follow her and her friends, Tacy and Tib, through childhood and early adulthood. The language of the books becomes somewhat more sophisticated the older the protagonists become.

With their positive outlooks and engaging characters and settings, they are great for future and current lovers of 'good books with bright sides.' No doubt many a Jane Austen devotee devoured a Betsy book before picking up Pride and Prejudice or Emma.

That was a fortuitous day - the day I was standing amid lamp shades, discontinued furniture and cleaning products, because on that day I found a ray of sunshine which turned to be the Betsy Ray series.

Unfortunately, fans of the books may have to be separated from their literary love, since the series is in danger of going out of print, according to the Betsy-Tacy Society website. The site will give more information about this issue and about the books in general.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wanderings and Ponderings...

So you've just bought a couple of books, say a hardcover and a paperback, and you look at the receipt which registered at around $40 and you're thinking, "Is my book-buying binge justifiable?"

Been there?

If you have then you know the struggle that ensues, the examination of your conscience, your finances, your decision-making abilities, the guilt which can accompany the memory of that transaction, the attempts to think positively, and finally the resolving that, indeed, you spent too much.

Which brings something up - What's the big idea with the high price of books? Even a trade paperback can cost around $14, or more. Forget about hardcovers which are practically as dear as some costume jewelry (in cost and sentimentality to the buyer). People spend as much time thinking about whether to buy a hardcover as they do in whether to buy the gold-plated earrings in that glass case at the department store. What a shame!

A writer named Christopher Morley stated or wrote that, "When you sell a man a book you don't sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life." That's not a bad way to put the experience of buying a book - buying a new life. But is that an experience fewer people have when books cost so very much?

Fortunately, there is such a thing as the library, where a person can at least 'rent' a new life...or a vacation, a time-travel experience, language lessons, etc. All these can be experienced even if all you have in your wallet is a borrower's card.

It is nice, however, to have one's own library with shelves from which one can pull an adventure whenever one wants. Oh, I'll visit Middle-Earth today! Or Regency England! Or I'll have a lesson from famous scientist Stephen Hawking! Or from chef Julia Child!

But that involves the purchase of books which is what started this thought process to begin with. So do you turn around, march back in the store and return your purchases?

Oh, the happy times when one can buy a book without a guilty conscience!

Book-lovers know how nice those are.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Travels through Letter Writing

Geraldine Brooks' 1998 book Foreign Correspondence, A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over,will have you pulling out your old scrapbooks and memory boxes in search of letters from past pen pals and fretting if you can't find them. It'll even have you toying nostaligically with the idea of looking up your former, fellow inky-fingers in a 'Where are they now?' search.

In this memoir Brooks' chronicles her years of growing up in Australia and her attempt at escaping the boredom she felt living in a place that, to her, seemed so remote. Letter writing was her relief from life's dullness and this cocky kid goes off with pen and ink in search of just the right correspondent. This quest leads her to befriend several other armchair or,if you will, writer's-desk travellers. The epistolary adventure has one of those endings that make you look up from your copy of the book and into the distance as you wonder at the outcome of the saga you just read about. Really, it's good!


Friday, April 13, 2007

C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia

*semi-spoiler alert*
Definitely falling into the category of good books with a bright side is C.S. Lewis's Narnia series which have been coming to the big screen starting with 2oo5's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The nice people at invited the public to share this video of the upcoming Prince Caspian on their personal blogs (at least that's how I understood it). So here is a little taste of what's ahead for Lewis-lovers.

Prince Caspian takes place many Narnia years after the first installment of the series and Cair Paravel is in ruins. Looks like the production team found a gorgeous spot for the young actors of the movie to wander around in as their characters when they are brought back to a Narnia nothing like the one they had known.

(I decided to take down the video, just in case. But you can view it at

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