Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 6

Welcome to Barton Cottage! Which turns out to be a tidy, regular little house that sounds remarkably like what we might call a center-hall colonial. There are two sitting rooms, one to either side, and behind them "the offices," a word which here refers to the kitchen and other rooms used by the servants in order to run the household – probably a butler's pantry and a storeroom, at the very least. Remember, they didn't have refrigeration then, so some meats were dried and hung, and things like cakes and the like were put into a cool place to keep them fresh.

I will note that it's possible that they had some cooling system on the premises, even in that time. For instance, if there were a spring on the property, they might have a spring house in which they could keep things cool via spring water. Or if they were near a stream or lake, they might have a building in which they had stored ice harvested from the local body of water in winter. In a temperate year, the ice could last into autumn. But at this point, I'm starting to feel like I've gone far astray from our story, so I return you to Barton Cottage: a neat, tidy, modern-for-the-times house, rather than a quaint, irregular structure with green shingles and a patched roof. It's well-situated on a hillside overlooking a valley, and the description of the house's position comports well with Gilpin's idea of the picturesque. (I don't recall if Gilpin is mentioned in S&S, but he's definitely mentioned or alluded to in Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Mansfield Park.)

Despite how the house has been portrayed in the two most recent filmed versions (Emma Thompson's 1995 production and the 2008 BBC miniseries), the house is not isolated – in fact, they can see the village of Barton from one side of their cottage. And despite the Thompson movie's assertions to the contrary, Marianne has a pianoforte from day one at their new home, her own instrument having been sent on ahead for her.

Mrs. Dashwood – bless her – immediately starts planning a number of costly improvements to the cottage, including rearranging the walls on the first floor and building an entire addition so as to add a dining room downstairs and another bedroom upstairs. She is wise enough to defer any such alterations until spring, however. You'll notice immediately that it is now September, which means that the Dashwoods spent 6 months living at Norland with John & Fanny, and at least 4 of those months included Edward Ferrars staying there as well. (I mention this because we won't be seeing much of Edward for a while, I'm afraid, and oftentimes people assume that there's not all that much of an acquaintance between him and Elinor, when in reality they spent nearly all day every day together for months on end.)

The next day, we meet one of the most affable characters in all of Austen, Sir John Middleton, who is described as a good-looking man of 40 (although he is not usually cast that way in the films, but I digress). This distant cousin feels more actual concern and solicitude for them than Mr. John Dashwood ever did (even on a good day), and it is terribly hard for readers not to like him immediately. It is worth noting, however, that he can be a bit overbearing and/or overexuberant in expressing himself, which sometimes becomes a bit much for the Dashwood ladies. I'm sure you know the type yourself – that kind-hearted soul who asks too many personal questions or urges second helpings and then forces you to take leftovers home when you'd rather not? We've all met some equivalent, is what I'm saying. And they are harder to be charmed by in real life, even though our knowing someone like that in real life is what helps us to find affection for Sir John.

Sir John operates out of a place of extreme good-heartedness, however, and has a desire to be useful. And thus it is that after riding over to meet them in the morning, he immediately sends over a large basket of fruits and vegetables from his garden, and later in the day has someone deliver them some game (likely rabbits or birds) so that they have provisions for their meals. Knowing they have no horse of their own, he offers to convey their letters to and from the post, and passes his newspapers along to them (thereby allowing them to keep up with the world at large while sparing them the expense of subscribing on their own).

The next day, the Dashwoods meet Lady Middleton, who is a fine young woman about 26 or 27 years old. She most likely married at about the age Elinor is now – 19 or 20 – since her eldest child (whom she brought along) is 6, and that age was entirely suitable for marriage for that time period. Lady Middleton is somewhat detached, and really only interested in her children. Her lack of conversation is probably not a real defect within her marriage, since Sir John is rather loquacious, but it doesn't make her a pleasant person to spend a lot of time with on her own.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 5

Not to trivialize, but seriously, this chapter can basically be summed up as follows:

Mrs. Dashwood: We're leaving for Devonshire as soon as possible.

Edward Ferrars: So far away?

Fanny Dashwood: Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Of course, a bit more happens than that. We learn that Mrs. Dashwood moves quickly when motivated, and that she still hopes things will work out for Elinor and Edward. We learn (again) that Elinor is the practical one of the lot, as she encourages her mother to sell her carriage (no horses, plus back then there were carriage taxes in effect) and to take only three servants with them (one man, two women). We learn that Mrs. John (Fanny) Dashwood is so petty and small-minded that she begrudges her mother- and sisters-in-law any nice things.

And the chapter closes with Marianne waxing poetic (in dramatic Marianne fashion) over the house and grounds that she is leaving behind, while taking a swipe at the current inhabitants of Norland, who she assumes will not appreciate the house and grounds as they ought to do. And one has to acknowledge that Marianne might be right about that.

"Dear, dear Norland!" said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; "when shall I cease to regret you!--when learn to feel a home elsewhere!--Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more!--And you, ye well-known trees!--but you will continue the same.--No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer!--No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!--But who will remain to enjoy you?"
Kiva - loans that change lives

The Wally Report

First, let me say that I live just across the river from Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love and home to the Phillies, who just won the NL East (again). We have such die-hard fans around here that fans stayed in the stadium cheering and celebrating well after the end of the game - and even after they turned the lights off on the field.

That same sort of enthusiasm and dogged determination (heh, I kill me) has been shown by Wally, who went to PetPT again last night. He's halfway through his six-treatment cycle (twice/week for three weeks), and Mr. McFuzzyPants was in quite a mood last night. Quoth Dr. Russell Howe-Smith, DVM, "I think he's angry."

Indeed. Wally was biting at the water in the pool. Doing weird things with his head and front paws when he reached the platform, usually involving sticking one or more of those things through the side slats and generally displaying a bad attitude. We think it's because his dinner was delayed.

On the plus side, Wally was a kicking machine in the pool last night, bad attitude or no, and so it came to pass that at the end of his swimming session, Russell put him on the treadmill. The treadmill in this case operates in the floor of a thick plexiglass box that is filled with water to the appropriate level (roughly shoulder level for Wally) so as to take a decent amount of weight off the dog's legs. Russell climbed in and sat behind Wally for this session while I plied him with animal crackers, and whaddya know? There was Wally, trotting along on the treadmill like a regular dog.

He can't trot like a regular dog on dry land just yet, but from here on out, there's no more swimming for the little guy. It's all treadmill for a while. Here's hoping that he gets his feet under him soon!

Kiva - loans that change lives

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 4

This chapter opens with Marianne making a comment to Elinor about Edward Ferrars. Whereas Marianne bemoaned Edward's lack of artistic taste to her mother in the last chapter, she actually says something to her sister here, and Elinor . . . does not take it well. She goes on a rather long and defensive rant, really, which tips us off more clearly to her attraction to Edward than a simple "I think I like him" ever could have done. She comments that although he seems merely average-looking on first acquaintance, the combination of his personality and his "fine eyes" (a phrase I've borrowed from Darcy's description of Elizabeth in P&P) have her convinced he's almost handsome. (Those of you who read along with Northanger Abbey last August may remember how delighted Catherine was to overhear her father referring to her as "almost pretty".)

". . . What say you, Marianne?"

"I shall very soon think him handsome, Elinor, if I do not now. When you tell me to love him as a brother, I shall no more see imperfection in his face, than I now do in his heart."

Elinor started at this declaration, and was sorry for the warmth she had been betrayed into, in speaking of him. She felt that Edward stood very high in her opinion. She believed the regard to be mutual; but she required greater certainty of it to make Marianne's conviction of their attachment agreeable to her. She knew that what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next--that with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect. She tried to explain the real state of the case to her sister.

"I do not attempt to deny," said she, "that I think very highly of him--that I greatly esteem, that I like him."

Marianne here burst forth with indignation--

"Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment."

Elinor could not help laughing. "Excuse me," said she; "and be assured that I meant no offence to you, by speaking, in so quiet a way, of my own feelings. Believe them to be stronger than I have declared; believe them, in short, to be such as his merit, and the suspicion--the hope of his affection for me may warrant, without imprudence or folly. But farther than this you must not believe. I am by no means assured of his regard for me."

That's Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood from the 2008 miniseries, looking shocked at Marianne's question.

First, I can't help but point out how Austen has borrowed from herself. In Chapter 6 of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy remarks to Caroline Bingley that, "A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment." Here, that exact same sort of sentiment is attributed to Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne by Elinor, who is a more rational being than her mother or sister. It doesn't mean she's not also emotional - after all, she confesses to liking Edward quite a bit, and to believing that he returns her interest, although she isn't certain how free he is to act on his own inclination. She carefully explains how he seems despondent at times, and how at times he seems to want to insert some distance into their relationship.

As Elinor is careful to set out, it is apparent to her that Edward is engaged in a tug-of-war with his feelings: on the one hand, they seem to have quite a bit in common, and their temperaments suit one another perfectly. Edward seems genuinely to like her and be attracted to her, but he seems also to be attempting to hold himself back from her, as well as making sure they do not, in fact, become too close, as if he has some other responsibility or obligation holding him back. (Goodness. I believe I may have just described Edward Ferrars as a sort of PushMe-PullYou.) Elinor thinks that Edward's conflict may be based on his mother's expectation that he will make an Important Marriage, but she is not truly certain about this, and notes that sometimes he seems determined only to feel friendship for her, and nothing more.

For us readers, the assumption that Edward is holding himself back because of his mother seems to be confirmed by his sister, Fanny Dashwood, who pulls Mrs. Dashwood aside to "hint" that if Edward were to marry someone like Elinor, their mother, Mrs. Ferrars, would be most seriously displeased, and might not give Edward his inheritance. I love how Austen describes this scene:

. . . [I]t was enough, when perceived by his sister, to make her uneasy, and at the same time, (which was still more common,) to make her uncivil. She took the first opportunity of affronting her mother-in-law on the occasion, talking to her so expressively of her brother's great expectations, of Mrs. Ferrars's resolution that both her sons should marry well, and of the danger attending any young woman who attempted to draw him in; that Mrs. Dashwood could neither pretend to be unconscious, nor endeavor to be calm. She gave her an answer which marked her contempt, and instantly left the room, resolving that, whatever might be the inconvenience or expense of so sudden a removal, her beloved Elinor should not be exposed another week to such insinuations.
"She took the first opportunity of affronting her mother-in-law" - HA! Here's how chapters two and three played out in the 2008 miniseries (if you don't wish to go past that, then stop watching at the 8 minute mark). You'll note how some things are made to seem far slighter than in the book, but it's exceptionally great for the exchange between the two Mrs. Dashwoods, which starts at about 5:40 in the video:

As luck would have it, Mrs. Dashwood gets a letter from a distant relative offering her lodgings that she can actually afford, and she hastens to accept, wanting to get away from her horrible daughter-in-law as soon as possible. I should note that while she makes a snap decision, she consults with her daughters before sending her letter of acceptance. We aren't told what Marianne has to say about it, but we are privy to Elinor's thoughts on the matter (another instance of balancing "sensibility" - Mrs. Dashwood's snap decision - with "sense" - Elinor's long-held thoughts on the matter).

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sunday, September 26, 2010

So much to tell you

Let's see. Where to start?

The Fall Philly SCBWI Conference was fabulous, as always. Lindsay Barrett George was the first featured speaker, and she spoke a bit about her career and a bit about the making of picture books. Next up, a panel consisting of my good friend Jennifer Hubbard () talking about YA books, Nan Marino talking about middle grade and Jeannine Norris talking about picture books. The three of them are part of a group of regional authors who have banded together for purposes of book promotion, and they discussed that as well as providing concrete tips about writing and marketing. Our last speaker before lunch was Wendy Mass, who was extremely entertaining, in addition to her practical tips and inspiration. She brought along a scroll made up of rejections for A Mango-Shaped Space, which was her first novel, and two volunteers unrolled it - it had to be 40-50 feet long. After (a yummy) lunch, we heard from Harold Underdown, the keynote speaker, who provided tremendously timely and helpful information about ongoing changes in the publishing industry. The next session included a break-out session - illustrators mostly went off to hear Isabel Warren-Lynch talk about formats (she sat next to me at lunch, and I thought she was entirely lovely); the rest of us heard from agent Erica Rand Silverman, who is with Sterling Lord Literistic. The day closed with an editors' panel (Jennifer Rees of Scholastic, Martha Mihalick of Greenwillow Books, and Elizabeth Barton of Simon Spotlight) and the annual raffle, during which at least three of my five numbers were called (I missed hearing some numbers - and a LOT of numbers are called because of how very many raffle items there are).

The Shakespeare poems are in the last little bit of production - I have one to write, about three to revise, and some non-poetic content to write to go along with the poems. And then I'll send them to another first-reader, who wanted to see the collection as a whole, and I'll go from there.

Our Sense and Sensibility read-along started the other day. I am inclined to delay posting about Chapter 4 until tomorrow, since it's already so late in the day here. This means that any of you who haven't started yet (but who wanted to) are really not far behind. I hope some of you will join us. And I hope those of you who aren't all that interested in Sense & Sensibility don't get fed up with it!

Wally continues to improve. Three times today while going out into the back yard, he has managed to get into a standing position and take two steps or so with his hind legs. I am not yet certain that it is on purpose, but even if it's not, it means it soon will be. When I got home from a visit with my in-laws late this afternoon and took him out, he definitely held his tail out (almost straight back, which is a first) and he wagged it side to side quite entirely on purpose. I can't wait to see what his next new trick will be, but I'm sure it will surprise me. (He tends to make great progress after every single PT treatment.)

Kiva - loans that change lives

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 3

Well, hello Edward Ferrars!

In Chapter 3, we meet Fanny Dashwood's brother, Edward. As the eldest son, he is the heir presumptive. We already know that his mother is stingy, based on what Fanny said in chapter 2, and that she controls the purse strings - something that is repeated in this chapter, just so we don't forget about it. This means that Edward is likely to be well-off eventually, but also that he is likely to have to marry well, since his mother will have to approve the match. We're told that his mother and his sister both want him to make a splash, somehow earning a name for himself in politics or as one of the great men of the times. His sister's desire for him to have a barouche is a desire for him to engage in ostentatious display, since a barouche at the time was the equivalent of a luxury convertible now.

Edward is a nice, quiet guy who hits it off with Elinor, and they form an obvious emotional attachment. Mrs. Dashwood is only too happy to think of Elinor being married and settled, and it suits her romantic nature just fine to jump to conclusions as soon as Elinor says a favorable word about him. Marianne, who is still more romantic than her mother, is less certain that she approves Edward as a suitor. He's not sufficiently heroic for her - she wants a Mr. Darcy, and not Mr. Darcy the prig at the beginning of P&P, and probably not even Mr. Darcy at the end of P&P, but the Mr. Darcy everyone concocts for themselves, who is tall, dark, handsome, rich, well-educated, well-dressed, and refined, and also caring and exceedingly "into" his lady love. It is not enough that Edward approves Elinor's painting - Marianne believes he ought to know all about painting, and finds him deficient for saying nice things just because it was Elinor's artwork. Marianne complains about his flat reading of the poems of William Cowper (pronounced Cooper, incidentally), who is best known for his poem The Task and for " ". Marianne wants a far more dramatic rendition of the poem, you see.

You'll note that we don't learn what Elinor thinks of Edward in this chapter, apart from her observation that he's not at all like his sister - a big plus!

A few points

1. House visits in Austen's time sometimes lasted for months on end. A family visit such as this at a country house put everyone there in close proximity with one another. They would have seen each other at meals, spent most evenings together, often in a group activity such as a shared musical event (one or more persons played and sang for the group), reading aloud (from such things as religious tracts, Shakespeare, novels, poetry or one of the popular travelogues of the time), games of cards, chess, or backgammon, and so forth. Well-off gentry did not often engage in most household chores - they had servants to haul wood, fix fires, milk cows, work in the fields or forests, do the cleaning, cooking and laundry, etc. So they probably saw a good deal of one another during the days as well, when occupied reading books and newspapers, writing letters, talking a walk, riding horses, receiving visitors or paying visits to others.

All of Austen's original readership knew exactly what day-to-day life was like for the landed gentry, and all of them knew exactly how days among family were spent, and how likely it was that Edward and Elinor were spending a great deal of time together, whether they got along well or not. I mention it to you now, because it's something that we as modern readers often do not give much thought to, and since Austen does not relay all that many conversations between Elinor and Edward, it would be easy to assume that perhaps there's little on which to build a relationship. My point is that there is MUCH on which to build a relationship, but it's contained between the lines here.

2. We are quickly learning that Elinor is "sense" and Marianne is "sensibility" (a word which then had to do with emotion and feeling, and not with common sense). Elinor is practical about money where her mother is not, and she says "Edward seems nice", which is enough for her mother to declare that she will love him then, while Elinor charts a more measured path, saying that they should get to know him, and probably they will think well of him. Marianne has extreme opinions on Edward based on what little she's seen of him. She wants a man who possesses all of Edward's virtues (which includes goodness), but is also handsome and charming and polished.

3. Going forward, we'll be looking at this dichotomy between the sisters, as well as if, how or how much it changes. While this novel involves romances involving both sisters, Austen's choice of a title makes clear that she's looking specifically at these characteristics. And the original title of this novel, Elinor and Marianne, makes clear that the key relationship in this novel as far as Austen is concerned is the one between the sisters. This makes perfect sense, when one realizes that Austen had a sister named Cassandra who was three years older than she was, and that Austen and her sister were entirely devoted to one another, but of different temperaments.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Five

1. I am going to the Fall Philly Conference hosted by the Eastern PA SCBWI tomorrow. Cannot wait to see friends and learn new things! Right now, I have to figure out What to Wear.

2. I had a poem accepted for publication in an online horror magazine next June. More about that much closer to the actual event.

3. As I mentioned earlier, Wally wagged his tail. Huzzah!

4. Poor Mark over at Mark Reads Harry Potter made it to Chapter 27 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I'm so excited that he wasn't spoiled before he got there. And so worried that people are going to spoil him before the 7th book. And since reading his blog (one chapter at a time through the novel) is like recreating reading it for the first time myself, I really don't want that to happen. I have no idea why this has become so important to me. Such is the power of the internet.

5. This whole planning a novel business sure is a lot of work. And thus far there's no real work product to show for it. I tip my hat to those of you who do this often!

Kiva - loans that change lives

The Wally Report

Wally visited the veterinary neurologist and the veterinarian/physical therapist today.

The neurologist told hubby and me that Wally seems to be making good progress. He was pleased to see that Wally is starting to move his hind legs on his own, etc. Rather less celebratory than I've been, but he's also less attached to the dog. Right? Right. And he wants us back in two weeks, which is longer than before.

This afternoon, I took Wally to PT all by myself, wearing his super-spiffy new harness. It has handles on it that allow me to lift him about like a piece of luggage, if need be. It enabled me to help him in and out of my minivan, and in and out of the buildings as well.

Wally seemed happy enough to be there, even if swimming still isn't his favorite thing in the world. While we were waiting for Dr. Russell Howe-Smith to get settled, Wally met a standard poodle who was there to use the in-water treadmill. And after sniffing, they engaged in a nose-to-nose greeting, and WALLY WAGGED HIS TAIL! I was lucky that Russell was there to see it, as well as the owner of the poodle, and everyone agreed that it was a voluntary and deliberate tail wag. How exciting!

Then, while in the pool, the little guy starting kicking quite strongly with his back legs. Of course, he's completely wiped out now, but that's to be expected.

We got back for more PT on Monday. I'll give you another report then, unless, of course, he does something remarkable again between now and then, which now seems completely possible. Not likely, but possible.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sonnet 19 (On His Blindness) by John Milton

On the way home from the vet today, I realized that brainradio was reciting a line of poetry: "They also serve who only stand and wait." (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "brainradio" is a word I coined to describe the part of my brain that usually plays music for me - what? doesn't everyone have this? Anyway, sometimes it recites poetry for me as well, probably because poetry and music are closely related in some ways. But I digress.)

For the life of me, I couldn't remember what poem this was from, and I was guessing far wide of the mark - I thought perhaps it was one of the so-called War Poets who wrote about WWI, like maybe Wilfred Owen. But no, I was centuries off and it has nothing to do with war or veterans. Today's poem, which concludes with the line brainradio was repeating for me, is by John Milton, and it has to do with his adjustment to blindness. His eyesight had been failing for about 10 years, but in 1654 or thereabouts, he lost it altogether.

Sonnet XIX
by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Form: The poem is a Petrarchan or Italianate sonnet, written in iambic pentameter (five iambs per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), and rhymed ABBAABBACDECDE. I especially like Milton's used of enjambment in this poem, where a thought begins sometimes in mid-line and wraps into the next without so much as an implied stop at the end of the line. Nice stuff for a poem that is presumed to date from 1655.

Discussion: Milton's reference to light is both literal and metaphorical. Having lost his eyesight completely, he no longer sees the light; at this point in his life, he believes his ability to write may have been lost as well (despite the fact that he's writing a marvelous sonnet AT THAT MOMENT), so he is no longer able to share his own "light" (or talent or life's work) with the world. His poem is a way of working toward acceptance of his physical condition: believing that his blindness is something God has chosen for him, he is trying to find a way to bear his condition patiently.

Interestingly enough, only three or four years after this poem was written, Milton embarked on writing what many consider his masterwork, Paradise Lost, which he wrote by using an amanuensis (a person who takes dictation, also called a personal secretary), so Milton was still able to share his talent despite having lost his eyesight.

Milton held rather interesting religious beliefs that were entirely his own, and did not align squarely with any one particular religion, although they definitely grew out of a Puritan background and his strong belief in acting in accordance with individual conscience. He also held dangerous political beliefs for his time; he had supported Cromwell, including writing tracts and treatises that impliedly supported the notion of regicide. When Cromwell died and the Restoration began, Milton had to go into hiding. He continued to rail against Charles II of England, even if his opposition was sometimes couched indirectly (as is true with Paradise Lost, which is as much about the loss of the Republic he'd supported as much as it is about biblical events).

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 2

You'll note that this entire chapter is composed of a single conversation between John and Fanny Dashwood. John wants to keep that promise he made to his dying father and Fanny . . . does not.

Mrs. John Dashwood now installed herself mistress of Norland; and her mother and sisters-in-law were degraded to the condition of visitors. As such, however, they were treated by her with quiet civility; and by her husband with as much kindness as he could feel towards anybody beyond himself, his wife, and their child. He really pressed them, with some earnestness, to consider Norland as their home; and, as no plan appeared so eligible to Mrs. Dashwood as remaining there till she could accommodate herself with a house in the neighbourhood, his invitation was accepted.

A reminder: Mrs. John Dashwood is married to Mrs. Dashwood's step-son. And as we are about to see, she is a stingy woman, and we are all destined to despise her from here to eternity. More or less.

Behold the genius manipulation of Mrs. John (aka Fanny) Dashwood:

John Dashwood: I think I'll give £3,000 away, £1,000 a piece to each of my half-sisters.

Fanny: WTF? Just think what a horrible depravation that will be for our fat son who is only about 5 years old right now. Besides, everyone knows your sisters can't have real affection for you, since you and they have different mothers.

John: But I promised my dad!

Fanny: Yeah, but he was dying, so we should assume he had no clue what he was saying. I'm sure he didn't want you to give away half of your fortune.

  [N.B. – There is no way in hell that £3,000 is anywhere close to half of his fortune.]

John: But I promised my dad! Something must be done!

Fanny: Yes, something must be done. Something that involves far less than £3,000. After all, your sisters will get married and take that money off to God knows where and Henry won't have it WOE!

John: True, Henry might turn out to be a breeder, and the money might come in handy. How's about I give them only half as much? £500 each?

Fanny: You are such a generous man! What brother would give that much to his REAL sisters, let alone these half-bloods?

John: Well, I'd rather do too much than too little. Still, they can hardly expect more.

Fanny: Who knows what they expect? The real question is what you can afford to do.

John: I'm inclined to give them the money – it will add to their inheritance when their mother dies, and make them each somewhat comfortable.

Fanny: Now that you mention it, they will already be SO comfortable that I'm sure they don't need your money.

John: Good point. Maybe instead I should give their mother an annuity of £100 per year while she lives.

Fanny: "[P]eople always live for ever when there is an annuity to be paid them." And then Fanny tells us a little something about her mother, Mrs. Ferrars, who we will not meet in person for many chapters, but it says a lot about where Fanny comes from:

An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father's will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it. Twice every year these annuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of getting it to them; and then one of them was said to have died, and afterwards it turned out to be no such thing. My mother was quite sick of it. Her income was not her own, she said, with such perpetual claims on it; and it was the more unkind in my father, because, otherwise, the money would have been entirely at my mother's disposal, without any restriction whatever. It has given me such an abhorrence of annuities, that I am sure I would not pin myself down to the payment of one for all the world.

John: Good point. I'll just send them a bit of cash every now and then. What say you to that?

Fanny: I'm sure your father never meant for you to give them any money. He probably meant for you to find a place to live and help them move so they can get the hell out of my house. In fact, I will walk you through the math involving interest, etc., and, to sum up, they'll have £500 per year to live on between them. They won't be able to afford a horse or carriage, or to keep many servants at all. They will probably have money left over to give YOU!

John: I'm sure you're right. I'll just help them move and maybe give them a little housewarming gift.

Fanny: But they're taking the dishes with them when they move, and I covet their breakfast set! And it will be far too nice for anyplace they can afford. But your father thought only of them, and if he could have, he'd have left them Norland as well.

This argument was irresistible. It gave to his intentions whatever of decision was wanting before; and he finally resolved, that it would be absolutely unnecessary, if not highly indecorous, to do more for the widow and children of his father, than such kind of neighbourly acts as his own wife pointed out.
Kiva - loans that change lives

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Wally Report

In today's issue, we learn that Wally is managing to move both of his back legs these days, though he can't get into a proper standing position on his own.

Also, on one occasion, he urinated all on his own and didn't need assistance (I usually have to squish his bladder - fun times). This is the first time since The Event. And yeah, if I've now caused you to believe the new TV series is all about my dog's spinal stroke, I'm okay with that. Even though I wouldn't mind Blaire Underwood coming by, the ads for that show look stupid to me. They got so fixated on creating suspense that they didn't bother to actually sell me the series. But I digress.

On three occasions, Wally moved his right hind leg out and lifted it up a bit while urine was being expressed, so I think he's trying to lift his leg, although he didn't bend it, so it looked more like a ballerina moving her foot into second position and lifting it a bit.

Wally McFurryPants (not an actual nickname, though maybe it should be) also managed to get himself into a standing position for the space of one step, but I count it.

Tomorrow: Appointment with the veterinary neurologist in the morning, PetPT in the afternoon.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 1

Austen's opening is not what one would call thrilling. Allow me to quickly summarize what's going on here:

The Dashwood menfolk with any ownership rights in the estate in Sussex? Yeah, they're dead. Mr. Henry Dashwood, husband to Mrs. Dashwood, has just died, leaving four children. Roll call:

1. Mr. John Dashwood, the son from a prior marriage, who is married to Mrs. Fanny (Ferrars) Dashwood, who is (as you will quickly see) a bit of a bitch. They are the parents of a fat young lad named Henry. John inherited a crapload of money from his deceased mother's estate, then gained a second huge helping of money when he married Fanny Ferrars.

2. Miss Elinor Dashwood, who, as the eldest unmarried daughter is usually referred to in company as "Miss Dashwood". She is practical and usually rational, and though she has feelings, she tries to do what society expects.

3. Miss Marianne Dashwood, who gets called "Miss Marianne Dashwood" or "Miss Marianne" because she is NOT the oldest unmarried daughter, is a highly "sensible" girl. In Austen's time, that was not a way of saying she was full of good sense; it was instead a way of saying she was highly emotional. She couldn't give a rat's ass what society expects in many cases.

4. Miss Margaret Dashwood, who is still a little girl. She is not technically "out" in society, so she doesn't really get a title so much. She only goes to dinners with relatives, although some of the gentlemen call her "Miss Margaret" to be nice. (Aww.)
Here's the thing about the estate of Norland, where Mrs. Dashwood and the girls have been living: when Mr. Henry Dashwood's uncle died, he inherited only a life interest in the estate, which will pass in full to his male children – in this case, Mr. John Dashwood, who probably only holds a life interest as well (meaning he really can't sell the estate), and fat little Henry Dashwood, who (if he lives to adulthood) will own the estate outright. The uncle left each of the girls £1,000.

Only a year after the uncle's death, Mr. Henry Dashwood dies. He leaves all his money to his wife and daughters, but it's a total of £10,000. What this means is that Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters? Yeah. They're now technically homeless, and they're going to have to live off the interest for the foreseeable future.

As Mr. Henry Dashwood lies dying, he makes his son, John, promise to do something to care for his step-mother and half-sisters. John at first intends to do something rather nice for them, but his wife quickly talks him out of it, in rather hilarious fashion, in the next chapter.

Speaking of his wife, I'm sure you all notice how Mrs. John Dashwood hastens to pee all over her new territory Norland in order to claim the house. (Because she is younger than her stepmother-in-law, she is differentiated when in mixed company by use of her husband's name. So, "Mrs. John Dashwood" is not as important as the elder "Mrs. Dashwood", as pecking-orders go.) Speaking of Mrs. Dashwood (mère), it's important to notice that she has an overdeveloped sense of drama. Like her middle daughter, Marianne, she is a pretty emotional creature, and left to her own devices, she would have rushed out of Norland immediately – nevermind they had no place to go, really, and that such actions would lead to an irrevocable break with her stepson.

Elinor is the voice of reason, who talks her mom off that particular ledge. We're told (not shown) that Elinor has strong emotions but deliberately tempers them, something her mother hasn't managed to figure out yet, and something that Marianne deliberately and willfully refuses to learn: EMO MARIANNE IS EMO! And Margaret? Yeah, she's 13 and a little too prone to emulate Marianne. But since she's 13, we really won't see her all that much in this version of the novel.

WAIT! Did you say this version of the novel?

Yes. Yes I did. When Austen first wrote this novel in the mid-1790's (at about the age of 20), she wrote it as an epistolary novel, which is, as you know, told through an exchange of letters. It is highly likely that Margaret was a necessary plot device then: an underage plot device who stayed home and got letters from her sisters when they went other places, so readers could learn what all was going on. And hey, Elinor and Marianne could even be away together and BOTH write to Margaret at home, each giving their own take on what goes on. *The More You Know*

Kiva - loans that change lives

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Doubt thou the stars are fire - in honor of Sense & Sensibility

Tomorrow marks the start of daily(ish) posts about Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. During the course of the novel, Austen makes a number of unattributed allusions to the works of Shakespeare, including what some see as references or parallels to King Lear and Measure for Measure. She also makes one explicit reference to Shakespeare in Volume I, chapter 16, in the form of a comment made by Mrs. Dashwood, the mother of the two main characters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood:

. . . but one evening, Mrs. Dashwood, accidentally taking up a volume of Shakespeare, exclaimed,-

"We have never finished Hamlet, Marianne; our dear Willoughby went away before we could get through it. We will put it by, that when he comes again-; but it may be months, perhaps, before that happens."
First off, how much do I love the humor in Mrs. Dashwood "accidentally" picking up Shakespeare, the way one might accidentally pick up a cold, or thoughtlessly pick up a bit of detritus? Dear Jane, you are too funny.

If you already know the story of Sense and Sensibility, then you might wish to draw parallels between the relationship Ophelia has with Hamlet and that which Marianne has with Willoughby. In which case, I like thinking they perhaps left off somewhere in the vicinity of this poem, which so suits Willoughby in being open to multiple interpretations.

In the play, the following poem is read aloud by Polonius, but attributed to Hamlet, who sent it to Ophelia as a token of his love - before she rejected him at her father's urging and then acted as a puppet on behalf of Claudius and Polonius in order to explore whether he was truly mad or not.

Doubt thou the stars are fire
by William Shakespeare

Doubt thou, the stars are fire,
Doubt, that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.

Form: A single stanza in iambic trimeter (three iambs per line - taDUM taDUM taDUM - although the first two lines could arguably begin with trochees: DUMta taDUM taDUM), which is cross-rhymed, meaning that the first and third lines rhyme, as do the second and forth. Or at least, in Shakespeare's time, "move" and "love" rhymed (with both of them sounding more like the word "clove" at that time).

Discussion: Shakespeare has crafted a lovely little poem here - it is short, but packs a wallop, conveying a sincerity and depth of feeling quickly, so as to move the scene along.

Hamlet tells Ophelia what she may question: she may question scientific things that involved a component of belief (at least at that time): whether the stars are fire, whether the sun moves. (The question as to whether the sun moved around the earth or vice-versa was not a clearly resolved issue in Shakespeare's time; although there was evidence that the solar system was, in fact, heliocentric, that reasoning had not yet been determined incontrovertible. Then again, perhaps he meant whether the sun moved at all, even if he did believe in a heliocentric system.) She may "doubt truth to be a liar" - that is, she may question the existence of truth itself, or suspect that what is told to her as truth is false. But the last line says that she should not doubt that he loves - or does it? Because, of course, the word "doubt" could also be used in Shakespeare's time to mean something like "suspect" - and that is a horse of an entirely different color, if the final line is to be read to mean "but never suspect me of loving [you]."

If Shakespeare was indeed using "doubt" to mean "suspect", he could be telling Ophelia to be willing to consider that the stars ARE fire, that the sun DOES move, that truth can be used to lie . . . and that Hamlet can never love.

Oh the wonderful ambiguity of these lines, which leave us guessing. I would argue, based on Hamlet's sincere grief and remorse over Ophelia's later death and his assertions that he loved her (including a competition with Laertes in which Hamlet asserts that he loved Ophelia far more than her brother ever did) that this poem was intended by Hamlet to be sincere, but that Polonius's reading was done in a way to insinuate that it was not - allowing for the audience to wonder, when Hamlet wigs out on Ophelia just after his "To be or not to be" soliloquy, whether he'd been toying with her all along.

Dear Mr. Shakespeare: You are one brilliant dude. Dear Miss Austen: You are indeed a clever, intelligent lady to have invoked this sort of association.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Wally Report, with Water for Elephants

Sorry to bring you TWO blog posts so close together. Turns out I was busy having a life today - writing time with Angela, taking care of the dog, Chinese food with M for dinner and a trip into Philly with my friend Lisa to hear Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants) talk about and read from her new novel, Ape House, which features bonobo apes that speak American Sign Language (ASL), who are "freed" from a research facility and wind up on a reality TV show, where they use their sign language to ask the researcher who used to be in charge of them to find them. (It's all in the flap copy, so I don't count that as spoilers.)

Sara Gruen
I'll get to the official Wally report in a second, but first a bit more on Sara Gruen. It turns out that she did several years of research on bonobos before and during the writing of the book. She not only read books and talked to researchers, but also talked with bonobo apes at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. The apes there do not use ASL, but communicate with humans via lexigrams. Bonobos obviously have their own language as well, because they are able to clearly communicate directions to one another through vocalization. As Gruen remarked, and I'm paraphrasing so I won't use quotes, these apes have been able to learn our language, but after years of study, we haven't learned a thing about theirs.

During the signing, I thanked Gruen for her presentation, and complimented her on doing such detailed research. She told me that she considers herself lucky indeed because she gets to spend a few years immersing herself in something she's passionate about. It shows in how she glows as she talks about her research and writing, and is the sort of thing I can completely relate to (says the woman who spent three and a half years immersed in Austen research). Like so many writers I know, Gruen is thankful for the existence of schools (to take her children away so she can write), and she admitted to getting snippy about how loudly people chew, for instance, when in the midst of writing. In short, she was completely down to earth and relatable, and I found myself wishing we could hang out. If you are interested in the apes, or in this author, her tour dates are listed here.

The furry boy you see here to the right was extremely busy today. I still have to "help" him relieve himself by pressing unmercifully hard on his bladder expressing his urine, which is how I discovered that as of this morning, if I hit the right spot to start the flow, the little dude simultaneously lifts his tail - not something he was doing before today, and a fun new trick since he's had practically no tail movement until now.

Also new today: Wally got himself up into a standing position of sorts (he didn't manage to get his back feet under him properly - we're told the ankles/feet come back last), then sort of "walked" for about 8 feet. Both M and I saw it, and he was clearly moving those back legs in an alternate rhythm, even if he was standing on folded-back feet somehow. Really wild to see, and I choose to be encouraged by it rather than weirded out.

Another new trick today: After a session "expressing" in the back yard, and while I still had my hands under his back end, Wally decided to make a break for it. As a result, we ended up running into the house together, him racing with his front paws and me holding up the back end. He seemed very pleased with himself, even if it was an oddly taxing experience for me (bent nearly double while running and supporting at least half his weight made it rather more arduous than it might sound at first).

We'll see what our excellent veterinary neurologist, Dr. Speciale, has to say about all this come Friday morning, and what Dr. Howe-Smith, the guy doing Wally's PT, has to say come Friday evening.

Meanwhile, thanks to all of you for your cheers and support during a decidedly crazy time. You can expect another Wally report at the end of the week, unless he miraculously finds his legs before then.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sense & Sensibility - a three-volume novel

Those of you who are familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (either the play or the movie) may recall much being said about the three-volume novel, which was spoken of rather disparagingly by most of the characters in the play.

Back in Austen's time, lots and lots of models were three-volume novels. Not because a novel couldn't be printed all in one volume, but because of the circulating libraries that existed at that time. Circulating libraries were very popular, because books were (relatively) expensive, and only a small percentage of the populace could afford to buy as many as they liked. (This is one of the reasons that wealthy people in novels set in that time, whether written then or now, tend to have large libraries - it's a form of conspicuous consumption, really, even if one has to be inside the walls of their homes to discover that it exists.)

Circulating libraries required a paid membership subscription, and one usually paid a fee in order to borrow a book. That's right - the fee was paid on a per-volume basis, not on a per-title basis. A novel printed in three volumes was therefore worth three rental fees, rather than just one. Publishers knew that most novels would sell a significant percentage of most novels to circulating libraries, so they were only too happy to accommodate those libraries by printing the majority of their novels in multiple volumes.

And thus it was that Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma were printed as three-volume novels. (The other two novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were printed together after Austen's death in a four-volume set.)

Don't forget our foray into Sense and Sensibility starts this Thursday. If you haven't found a copy of the novel, but would like to read along anyhow, may I recommend Molland's Circulating Library, an online repository of Austen-related texts? Here's the direct link to the Table of Contents for Sense and Sensiblity.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Wally Report

Here is my very cute little dog, sitting up in the lift that will raise him into the air, then lower him into the pool. The plastic bits at the ends come out, turning the lift into a platform that is his safe place when he's in the pool. He was extremely cooperative for this photo. I can assure you that in real life, his eyes are a lovely shade of brown, and not demon red. He is a very sweet boy, however, and even with the red eyes, I think that still comes through. I love how the black from the black-and-yellow life vest blends with his black fur. (He's a spaniel/border collie sort of mutt, probably with something else thrown in.)

Isn't Wally adorable?

Once the platform goes up, turns, and lowers into the pool, Wally spends a few minutes getting acclimated to the warm water, then gets pulled into the pool. He considered actually going to the vet, Russell Howe-Smith for a few moments, but ultimately had to be pulled in.

Wally is every bit as uncertain as you might think.

He gets pulled out into the pool, then swims back toward the platform. Sometimes he forgets to put his front legs down on the platform and keeps swimming, which is kind of cute. And he gets rests between bouts, during which Russell checks his pulse to make sure he's not getting panicky. Today, he was decidedly moving his back legs on his own - not a lot, but it was consistent. Russell sometimes "enhanced" his motion for him, but still, Wally is making progress for sure.

Eyes on Mommy, as always.

Here's my boy, paddling toward Mommy and the platform. He really wants to get somewhere, and he'd really like it to be out of the pool, but failing that, he's happy to get near me and (to a somewhat lesser extent, which is a surprise) hubby. I suspect that it's because I'm alpha, and hubby is more like a pack-mate, and when the going gets tough, he's looking for the security that an alpha gives him. But it's just a theory.

Here he is on the next-to-last pass. Russell sometimes holds him so he can't make much progress, although he eventually lets Wally head to the security of the platform.

See how intent he is on looking at me? Who'sacutie?

At the end of the session, the ends are put back into place, and Wally is airlifted to the relative safety of the ground, where he shakes a ridiculous amount of water on all and sundry. Here's my wet boy, on his way out of the pool:

Kiva - loans that change lives

What I'm up to

I wish I knew. I still have a bit of nonpoetry writing to do in order to finish up the Shakespeare Poems, and no, I can't really share anything more about that just now, but I am on to the next thing.

And the next thing scares me, because it is not something I have managed before. And I am therefore filled with anxiety that it is simply not something I am capable of pulling off (to whit, a YA novel). Sure, I've written a research-heavy biography of Jane Austen in period verse for that crowd. And a collection of Shakespeare poems. And I've written chapter books and picture books and individual poems, but this? This is completely new territory for me. Unless you count the three failed starts I've made on other YA projects, only to completely abandon them. And if I count those, I am building on a record of failure, so I'm inclined not to do so.

I have decided to forge ahead, however, if only to keep the promise I made to M to write a YA novel so I can try to sell it before she's out of high school. She has just started sophomore year. It's theoretically possible, therefore, that I can pull this off, and so I shall try. If you hear a loud banging sound coming from my corner of the interweb, it's my head meeting my desk.

I've read lots of awesome posts on this sort of thing from friends over the years, and they are all an inspiration. But over the weekend, I felt as if Paul Acampora had written this post just for me. Because I happen to know Paul personally (a little bit - not nearly enough!) and I know his writing, and he is brilliant. His post was about finding the time to write, but that is not the part that spoke to me. What was there that is just for me (and maybe for you, too) is this:

I’m working on a first draft right now. Quality has very little to do with it. In fact my goal at the moment is to simply write a very bad novel. It’s a good goal because when it comes to first drafts, it’s the only kind of novel I can write. If I finish at all, that will be a huge success.
If Paul can have the goal of writing a very bad novel, then so can I. And hey, I read Paul's blog post not long after reading this on Maureen Johnson's Twitter in answer to a reader's question: "Never second guess how good it is. Write anyway."

It's kinda nice of the Universe to send me encouragement via the internets, isn't it?

Kiva - loans that change lives

What I'm up to

I wish I knew. I still have a bit of nonpoetry writing to do in order to finish up the Shakespeare Poems, and no, I can't really share anything more about that just now, but I am on to the next thing.

And the next thing scares me, because it is not something I have managed before. And I am therefore filled with anxiety that it is simply not something I am capable of pulling off (to whit, a YA novel). Sure, I've written a research-heavy biography of Jane Austen in period verse for that crowd. And a collection of Shakespeare poems. And I've written chapter books and picture books and individual poems, but this? This is completely new territory for me. Unless you count the three failed starts I've made on other YA projects, only to completely abandon them. And if I count those, I am building on a record of failure, so I'm inclined not to do so.

I have decided to forge ahead, however, if only to keep the promise I made to M to write a YA novel so I can try to sell it before she's out of high school. She has just started sophomore year. It's theoretically possible, therefore, that I can pull this off, and so I shall try. If you hear a loud banging sound coming from my corner of the interweb, it's my head meeting my desk.

I've read lots of awesome posts on this sort of thing from friends over the years, and they are all an inspiration. But over the weekend, I felt as if Paul Acampora had written this post just for me. Because I happen to know Paul personally (a little bit - not nearly enough!) and I know his writing, and he is brilliant. His post was about finding the time to write, but that is not the part that spoke to me. What was there that is just for me (and maybe for you, too) is this:

I’m working on a first draft right now. Quality has very little to do with it. In fact my goal at the moment is to simply write a very bad novel. It’s a good goal because when it comes to first drafts, it’s the only kind of novel I can write. If I finish at all, that will be a huge success.
If Paul can have the goal of writing a very bad novel, then so can I. And hey, I read Paul's blog post not long after reading this on Maureen Johnson's Twitter in answer to a reader's question: "Never second guess how good it is. Write anyway."

It's kinda nice of the Universe to send me encouragement via the internets, isn't it?

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sense and Sensibility - some preliminary thoughts

Our reading of Sense and Sensbility starts this Thursday, and I have to tell you all that in some ways, I find Sense & Sensibility to be the hardest of Austen's novels to read. It's certainly the hardest to get into for a LOT of people, and here are some reasons why:

1. Sense and Sensibility was first published in 1811. Yes, that means the 200th anniversary of Austen's first publication is next year, but it also means that Austen was writing using late 18th- and early 19th-century prose. Especially for this book and her second-published novel, Pride and Prejudice, which were first written by her in the 1790s. Early 19th-century prose is different from contemporary prose. Not as different as, say, Middle English or Elizabethan English, maybe, but still . . . the phrasing is a bit different than one is used to in some cases. This is the sort of thing to which one adjusts as a book goes on, and in which one can positively delight if one really gets the hang of it (say, by reading lots of Austen and Brontë and such). Really, it's not that big a deal - it's like reading Shakespeare (or hearing it spoken): a bit foreign-sounding at first, but eventually pretty intelligible if you roll with it.

2. The book opens with a complicated legal explanation about the inheritance of estates, a topic that comes up again throughout the novel. And I mean that sincerely - both that such a thing is quite near the start of the book, and that it is complicated, even for lawyers. I was one. I know whereof I speak. That said, Austen explains it far better than any Property Law professor I've heard, and I've heard some great ones. I promise to hold your hand for this bit, which we do need to discuss because the laws of inheritance are a major inciting event in this novel, and in order to appreciate some of Austen's social activism and protofeminism, we have to know what she is saying the law is, so we can understand why she rails about it. Savvy?

3. The book also opens with a glut of similar-sounding character names, all of whom are female and all of whom are variants on Miss or Mrs. Dashwood. The funny thing is that for me, these character's names sound nothing alike now, but that is because I understand the social niceties of titles used in Austen's time - in part from having read so many Austen novels. (This is one of the reasons I generally recommend that folks read S&S last if they are reading all six of the major novels - the naming seems intuitive if you've done that, and even the legal estate stuff is discussed a bit in Pride & Prejudice, although it's a horse of a slightly different color.) But when I first read this book in the late 1990s, I really struggled to sort it out.

Have no fear, it will all be exceptionally clear as we go along. Meanwhile, at least one person asked me what edition of Sense and Sensibility I recommend. I am personally a huge fan of the Norton Edition, which was edited by Professor Claudia L. Johnson from Princeton, who really knows her stuff. She went back to the first and second editions of the novel, both of which were printed in Austen's lifetime, in order to answer questions about punctuation and the like. (Many other editions rely on the extremely popular editions done by R.W. Chapman in the early to mid-1900s; sometimes, he made stylistic changes that weren't necessary.) I like the Norton Edition because of how Johnson went about working on it, and also for the numerous excerpts of biographical information and related texts in the back of the book, some of which were quite helpful to me when I was researching the Jane Project. (I have Norton Editions of all the six major novels.)

That said, any edition of this novel will work for you. I will be referring to the Volume and Chapter numbers from the original editions, so you ought to be able to keep up fairly easily. Most book stores and libraries stock more than one edition, and most of the bookstore versions are reasonably priced, so find one that you like the look and feel of.

Speaking of Volume and Chapter numbers, tomorrow I will be explaining why the original editions were put out in three volumes, when we can all buy a single-volume edition today and hold it easily.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Easy A earns its A easily

Cheesy post title. I know. I couldn't help myself.

Know who's delightful in this movie? The entire cast. Seriously. And it is a cast of awesome, from Emma Stone as Olive to Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as her parents to Dan Byrd as Brandon to Penn Badgley as the stable-yet-swoonworthy Todd (even though he seems too old to be in high school) to Thomas Haden Church as an awesome teacher and Lisa Kudrow as his awesomely awful (guidance counselor) wife. Amanda Bynes was obnoxious (a compliment - she was meant to be), Cam Gigandet was laughable (ditto), and Malcolm McDowell was rigidly out of touch (again, ditto).

The premise of Easy A is that good-girl Olive spins a story to impress her best friend, thus earning a reputation as a slut when it is overheard and spread before she can take it back. She knowingly and purposefully cements that reputation in order to help her friend Brandon escape daily torment because people think (rightly) that he is gay. The scene in which she and Brandon fake having sex (not a spoiler - it's in all the ads) is completely hilarious, and unless you've already seen the film, you have not seen or heard the funniest parts of that particular transaction.

The homage to the work of John Hughes was wonderful - and occurred on two levels. In many ways, this film is similar to a John Hughes movie, at the same time as Olive, the main character, pays direct tribute to Hughes's films, while metafictionally wishing her real life were more like a Hughes film. So. Great.

Even moreso than Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, this is a film for all writers and fans of YA literature. It is smart and funny and while there are some premises that strain credulity a bit - the behaviors of the principal and guidance counselor, for instance, and the huge amount of power weilded by an exceptionally small group of moralistic teens - Olive manages to feel very real. Emma Stone is warm and witty and spunky, as well as being a truly kind, caring character.

On top of the excellent storyline of the movie, the movie is full of excellent literary references, from the direct (Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and boy did I love how that reference worked out, and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne) to the indirect - including the nod to Forever and other books by the wonderful Judy Blume, which you can see in the trailer, and the reference you see below, which is a nod to The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot, an existential poem if ever there was one.

               T.S. Eliot allusion for the win!

For those of you not familiar with Eliot's poem, it deals with a couple key themes, including life in difficult times (he wrote it while living in Europe after World War I), possible marital infidelity, the passing of judgment (in the poem, judgment is passed on new souls by the inhabitants in the kingdoms of death), and questions involving religion, including a sort of condemnation on the worship of false gods (or the false worship of real gods). And yes - all those themes are in this really funny movie as well. I told you it was smart. The Hollow Men concludes with this (much-quoted) stanza, which is both a reference to the Gunpowder Plot involving Guy Fawkes and a fatalistic prediction for the future, which manages at the same time to echo "Here we go 'round the Mulberry Bush":

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
This movie does indeed go out with a bang, not a fizzle, and the ending is satisfying and endearing and sweet. The movie is probably going to be a (well-deserved) star-maker for Emma Stone. And this film is on the "will-see-again" and "must-buy" lists already here at our house. M has decreed it to be so, and I agree with her 100%. Because there are layers and levels to this movie, whether you like its Hughes-homage angle or its literary references angle or the fabulous chemistry between every single one of the significant characters in this film.

My recommendation? See it early and often.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day

Landlubbers and sea dogs alike rejoice! Rejoice or be keelhauled, that is - it be the 19th of Septemberrr, me hearties, an' that means Talk Like a Pirate Day!

(I agree with my good friend that "Dress Like a Pirate Day" would be far more fun, and something I would enjoy much, much more.)

Kiva - loans that change lives

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Wally Report

Guess who had his first physical therapy appointment today? If you guessed Wally, then gold star for you!

First we chatted with Dr. Russell Howe-Smith, the vet in charge, who took some history, did some assessment, and then suited up in a wetsuit. Because the PetPT place is all about water therapy for dogs. Russell put Wally into a life vest, and then into a platform lift that raised him up from the floor and lowered him into the above-ground pool. After getting him used to the idea of being in the water (Wally has never gone swimming before), Russell pulled Wally off the platform and made sure he understood that once he got to the platform, he was safe. (Wally is a fast learner.)

And then, Russell started steering Wally around the pool, checking his hind legs. And what do you know - when Wally got close to the platform again, he really starting pumping those front legs - and his back legs moved a bit too. In subsequent swimming sessions, Wally managed to move those hind legs a bit more. Not a lot, and not strongly, but it looks like things are going to get working again.

And we're ordering him a "Help 'Em Up" harness, so that he can start going on walks in the neighborhood. It will be a bit taxing, I think, since it basically means that you have to keep up with the front half of the dog while carrying the back half, but it will be a good thing for the little guy to feel like he's going somewhere and making progress - and it might help him to get back in the swing of things, bathroom-wise.

I am totally taking a camera along next time to document the swim therapy so I have photos of it for me. And hey - I'll share some with you, too.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Five

1. The Wally Report: Wally's check-up with the veterinary neurologist went well yesterday. The vet agreed that he seems to be regaining function. Wally starts pet physical therapy tomorrow. The vet led hubby to believe that we might get lucky enough for him to make a pretty rapid recovery. (I'm not holding my breath, but it sure would be nice!)

2. The 2010 CYBILS Poetry Panels were announced today at the CYBILS blog. First-round panelist Elaine Magliaro is today's Poetry Friday host. We're lucky to once again have folks who really know their poetry on board!

3. In case you missed my post the other day, Breaking Waves, an e-book anthology to benefit the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund, launched the other day, complete with my poem "Troubled Water", which closes the e-book. I am extremely grateful to for blogging about it yesterday, since she has a million billion followers. (Okay, I exaggerate - but seriously, she has nearly 7,000 followers on LiveJournal alone!)

4. I am in the pre-thinking phase for a new project. I'm not certain I'll be able to pull it off, but I'm hopeful. Let's leave it at that for now.

5. My picture book, At the Boardwalk, has an illustrator - and it's Spanish artist Mónica Armiño! You can see some of her work at her blog. ¡Que bonito! M would love to see this Viking guy in At the Boardwalk. Meanwhile, I am seriously in love with her Narcissus. *swoon*

bonus: A thank you to for featuring my post How to be a rock star at public appearances on his blog today. It was lovely to get comments from new acquaintances!

Kiva - loans that change lives

Baby Baby Baby! by Marilyn Janovitz

Boy, I sure hope my good friend Myra isn't reading this, because sometime soon, I'm going to be sending this book her way for her to read to her newish baby. The good folks at Sourcebooks were kind enough to send me a review copy of their new board book, Baby Baby Baby!, written and illustrated by Marilyn Janovitz.

The book is written in a bouncy sort of rhyme - as in the kind you might recite while bouncing a very small child on your knee - that rollicks along in a rhythmic way. The accompanying press release claims it's a going-to-bed sort of book, but it's not a sleepy sort of book at all. It's a playful, fun sort of book that talks about things like clapping, dancing, crawling, splashing, gigglin, chasing, hugging, and eventually sleeping. But given its playful nature, it's far more likely to result in a request to hear it again (AGAIN!) than to inspire actual drowsiness. (I do not think that is a bad thing, by the way. Being a board book, it's a total of 12 spreads involving 9 stanzas, so it doesn't take especially long to read, even if you clap, dance, kiss, hug, etc. along with the family inside the book.)

An excerpt:

Bitsy bouncy baby
On a bumpity lap
Mommy's little baby likes to

Teeny tiny feet
Tippy toes prance
Daddy's little baby likes to

The illustrations are every bit as simple, colorful and adorable as the cover. Fun rhymes paired with fun drawings in a sturdy board book format? What's not to like? I can assure you that if I didn't have this nice copy to share with Myra's baby, I'd probably have bought one for her when it goes on sale in October - it's that cute.

The box below will take you to Elaine Magliaro's Wild Rose Reader, where you can find the rest of today's Poetry Friday posts:

Kiva - loans that change lives

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How to be a rock star at public appearances

It's funny how, if you're open to thinking in slightly tangential ways, you can learn lots of writing- or author-related things in non-authorial settings. Like that time four years ago when I posted ten lessons I'd learned from watching Top Chef. This time, my lesson was derived from recent outings at rock concerts.

Last night, my friend Lisa treated me to some Cake - not the food, but the music of the band named Cake, best-known for their songs "Distance" and "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" and their funky cover of "I Will Survive." (It was Lisa's treat to celebrate my picture book deal with the good folks at tiger tales books.) We were both looking forward to the concert, especially Lisa, who has been waiting at least two years for them to return to Philly. To summarize our evening really briefly: We didn't care for the band. Don't get me wrong - their music was fine, but they mismanaged their concert time and some of the things that came out of the lead singer's mouth were really off-putting.

Now, Lisa was with M and I last Friday when we went to see The Airborne Toxic Event in concert (their biggest hit is "Sometime Around Midnight", which I can seriously listen to on replay quite a number of times in a row - such a great song structure!), and we are all still raving about how awesome it was. So I'll be drawing some comparisons here, but I promise that you don't have to know or like the music of either band in order to follow along. Although I can't help but repeat what I said in the post about Friday's concert - if you haven't yet heard The Airborne Toxic Event, you really should. And if you are on their tour route (in that post), you should see them. Now. Before they become HUGE. Because it is my belief (and Lisa's as well) that they are going to be big. Soon. But I digress.

What I learned about public appearances

1. No matter who you are, if people have turned out to see you, it's because they want to see you. In most cases, it's because they already like you (or your work), but in some cases it's because they are curious to learn more.

2. People who turn out to see you want to like you, even if they aren't sure exactly how much they like you already. The benefit of the doubt is in your favor. If you are at least okay, they will continue to like you.

    A. If you are really good - you do a great job reading your work, say, or giving a presentation - they may well be converted into lifetime fans. This is what happened for M, Lisa and me at The Airborne Toxic Event Concert. Musically, they were phenomenal. When Mikel Jollett (the lead singer) spoke, he was genuine and super nice, and the rest of the band nodded along, made eye contact with the audience and seemed approachable. So much so that after the curtain call that came after the encore, band members came down into the audience to mix and mingle and take photos. (M has a photo of herself with Mikel; Noah (the bass player) came into the crowd a bit later - I think he changed first, and we talked to Daren Taylor (the drummer) in the parking lot, and M got a photo with him as well.) Lisa, M and I cannot speak highly enough of the concert AND of the band members.

    b. If you are a jerk or if you phone in your performance at a speech or a reading or a meet & greet or at a signing, at least some percentage of the people who were your fans before they saw/heard/met you will decide never to buy another Cake song ever bother seeing, reading or recommending you again in the future. This is Lisa's and my experience with Cake, after John McCrea (lead singer) ruined our concert experience using a variety of tactics, some of which I'll detail below, but the final straw of which involved singling out a woman in the audience during their encore who had hollered "Stop talking and sing!" (an entirely valid comment, btw) for ridicule, unleashing an angry tirade and threatening to leave the stage without having played "The Distance", which is their #1 hit. It was a completely horrible and unprofessional thing for him to do, but it wasn't the only bad behavior by McCrea and, by extension, by the band.

3. People like people who are genuine and real. During The Airborne Toxic Event concert, Mikel Jollett observed at one point what great energy there was in the room, and stammered something about wishing the band could take all of us home with them so they could play for us, and maybe we could all rustle up some lunch. It wasn't artfully phrased and it sure didn't seem rehearsed - it came across as a way of expressing appreciation for the audience. Lisa can't stop talking about how genuinely nice he seemed, and his humility definitely engaged us and everyone around us, based on crowd response and overheard comments.

I have observed this same thing time and again with writers, too, including well-known authors speaking to big crowds. For instance, I've heard and seen Laurie Halse Anderson speak at two separate SCBWI conferences (no two performances exactly alike, either) as well as at signings and at ALA. She's a rock star, because she is genuinely herself, and her concern and caring and appreciation and gratitude come across. The same can be said for John Green, whom I have heard and seen speak at an SCBWI conference, at a free public event in Philadelphia, and at a Nerdfighters' event in Lancaster County, PA. And the same can be said of superstar authors like Neil Gaiman, whom I saw and heard read from The Graveyard Book when he was on tour in support of that event, and of Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and John Irving when they did their joint charity event at Radio City Music Hall a few years ago. And Lisa (my rock-concert pal) still speaks about how wonderful Daniel Handler was when she and her son went to hear him read in Philly a few years back - he was an amazing reader, and he spent several minutes talking to Ethan about life and books and music during the signing.

4. People don't like people who are fake/forced or unpleasant. I mean to say, duh. But in further support hereof, I am certain that many of you know of authors (some of whom are quite famous) who have Behaved Badly in public, and it usually puts people off. Or they've turned up for a reading, and they don't really engage with the audience at all, just do a perfunctory reading and step aside. Or they are at a signing, but they don't want to make eye contact with the people who have bought their book (sometimes multiple copies) and stood in line (sometimes for a long, long time). They give the impression that signing is a horrible chore (and I've heard from more than one friend that it can lead to some pretty serious hand pain, so I get that this may be partially true) and that they just want to get done so they can go somewhere else, kthankxbai. (Contrast this with the signing I went to last fall where Julie Andrews smiled and spoke briefly with every single person who had a book signed, in genuine appreciation of people buying the poetry anthology she edited. They told us in advance that she had a limited time there, and they moved the line along, but Ms Andrews certainly wasn't acting like she had a Very Important Dinner to attend afterwards, even though it was true.)

Last night, the majority of John McCrea's early comments to the crowd seemed rehearsed and insincere, and were blatant attempts to get the crowd to cheer through repeated use of the word "Philadelphia" (WOO! That's our city! Everyone cheer!) or self-centered remarks about the band or its music. When he later launched into an off-putting, angry rant about the music industry and the radio business (um, dude - there is a radio station AT THE CONCERT that plays you and promoted this concert heavily - have some respect/tact, why don't you?), Lisa & I (and at least half of the people in our immediate vicinity) were made quite uncomfortable. The drunk guys two rows up didn't seem to mind, and neither did the stoners to our right, but everyone else looked like they'd just as soon not have their noses rubbed in Cake's dirty laundry. Also, they seemed to wish that they'd play music instead of ranting for five-minute stretches of time. (Things like this happened more than once.) And the castigation of a woman who was only shouting what more than half the audience was thinking (less talk! more music!) was unpleasant as well. People booed. I suspect McCrea thought they were booing that woman, but I have to say that I believe they were booing McCrea's boorish behavior.

5. Encouraging crowd participation is good. Forcing it is not. Folks were singing along at both concerts, as they do. At The Airborne concert, when they started singing Happiness is Overrated, Mikel deferred to the audience on the "Oh-oh-oh well" part near the start, then asked laughingly why we sounded like we were all hanging out together in a Scottish bar somewhere (it did indeed sound a bit boozy). Spontaneous crowd participation followed by affectionate mention of it (using the plural "we") = win.

At the Cake concert, they stopped mid-song (on at least three occasions) and split the audience in half (twice it was done in a right half versus left half way, and once in a male vs. female way - and I do mean that: McCrea set it up as a competition in all three instances, and assigned parts for people to sing, and while it might have been okay once for a short time, all three sessions went on terribly long and then, on top of it all, he labelled one "side" as good and the other evil, and then eventually went off on a rant about how "you" the audience shouldn't set things up as a competition. Um, dude - you were the one who set it up that way. And wouldn't continue with the concert until you got the decibel levels you were looking for from the crowd. Yeesh. Forced crowd participation followed by criticism (using the plural "you") = loss. I suppose that's two points really - not only was the participation pretty much mandated (since they wouldn't move on until he got the result he wanted), but it was denigrated as well. (Dude. Don't bite the hand that feeds you.)

This is true at author events as well. Encouraging or allowing people to ask questions (even if it is in a presubmitted/prescreened way, as was done at Radio City Music Hall for the King/Rowling/Irving thing, the Gaiman reading and the Nerdfighters' Event I attended) allows the audience to feel that the author is approachable. This is true even if there are people who had questions but weren't "picked" as questioners, and it is decidedly true for the many people who come out and would like to ask a question but don't, either out of shyness or for some other reason. FORCING an audience to do anything too much more than weighing in on something by a show of hands (e.g., "how many of you are writers?") makes people uncomfortable at most sorts of speeches, signings, etc. (I believe an exception exists for workshops where people have been led to expect they will participate in something. That said, I once attended a workshop where the speaker made everyone read something they'd just written aloud, and there were some folks who were visibly uncomfortable with that notion despite having been warned up front that it was going to happen. Still, as they'd been warned and the speaker didn't refuse to proceed if someone passed on actually doing it, nobody seemed completely put off by it.)

6. Plan ahead and give some serious thought to pacing. The Airborne Toxic Event worked off a set list. (I know this because the band members threw them into the crowd as souvenirs at the end of the show, along with guitar picks.) Cake did not use a set list. I know this, because McCrea told us so, insisting that the band didn't "need" one, and that they didn't pay attention to anything the crowd called for, and that they played what they were in the mood to play. (The "deal with it" was only implied, not asserted.)

The Airborne Toxic Event concert went smoothly. There was a bit of patter every now and then, but nothing that was off-topic. Maybe an intro to the members of the band or a show of appreciation for the Calder quartet or the crowd or a short intro to a song (sometimes done to allow members to switch instruments, etc.) The Cake concert was . . . bumpy. They'd get the energy ramped up, then crash it with five-minute rambles or rants, or maybe a forced sing-along. Or they'd play two songs that got the crowd revved up and then drop the bottom out of the energy with two slow songs in a row (and maybe a ramble or rant as well, for good measure). It was like driving in a NYC cab that has a relatively clear road, but hits every traffic light (usually a "floor it, then stop" sort of experience).

I'm sure you've all seen speakers who had obviously planned their comments ahead of time, and you've probably seen some people who figured they'd wing it. Sometimes, people can wing it and be amazing. But I've also seen them crash and burn, and it is an uncomfortable thing to behold when that occurs.

7. That said, don't be afraid to make adjustments if something is going well (or, I suppose, badly). The Airborne Toxic Event played a somewhat low-key first half, during which most of the crowd stayed seated. They came out rocking at the start of the second set, and by the end of the second song, everyone was up - and stayed up for the third. At that moment, the band had a quick convo and launched into "Sometime Around Midnight" - after which, nobody even thought about sitting down. Since we were in the third row, it was quite obvious to us that they changed up the list because the energy had come way up and they wanted to keep it there. Well-played (pun intended), Airborne. I can't offer a corresponding or contrary story for Cake, since they had no list in the first place, although I can say that their musical preparation was really exemplary - they were quite tight in most places. And if they truly wing it with their sets, it means they are probably prepared to play quite a number of different songs on any given night, which is pretty impressive.

Either in person or in movies, we've all seen speakers who start down a particular path and realize that they are losing their audience. Something they thought was funny isn't getting laughs, or it's obvious that the crowd is losing interest, so they move on to their next point or tackle the subject in a different way. That is so much better than the people who continue on with their lecture as if they were channeling Professor Binns from the Harry Potter books, don't you think?


Kiva - loans that change lives