Monday, September 13, 2010

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

It's a new semester! I'm in an American Realism class this fall, which is good for me because it's not really my go-to genre and I'll be reading all sorts of books I haven't read before. I'm excited to expand my horizons a bit! Starting off with a familiar friend, though, is Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. It's been years since I've read this book. It's amazing the way a book can change from childhood to adulthood. When I read this as a teen I remember thinking it was funny. And it is funny. It made me laugh out loud and frequently share portions with Jon. What I never realized before is what seriously clever satire this is! As an adult I can see the commentary that Twain is making on his own society and the way romanticism is being attacked. It made me think twice (or thrice or more) about a few aspects of our own society. I really enjoyed this on every level, from intellectually to emotionally. I'm so glad that taking this class made me buy this book, because I think it's a must have for any library.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


*Spoiler free, so read on!*

You all know how long I've been anticipating this book. So... where to even start! Overall, my feelings are positive. I feel closure on the series. I feel acceptance. I feel like this book has changed the way that I think about war. Which, when it comes right down to it, is what this whole series is really about. The first couple of books may have made us think that this is a love story, but by the time we've all read Mockingjay we can see what it all comes down to: the horrors and emotional impact of war. This is not a fairy tale or a happily ever after type of story. Because of that, I have to say that I didn't love this like I wanted to.

I love the first two books and I really wanted Mockingjay to be a glorious ending, Harry Potter style, where all the bad guys get their trash kicked and hope and good reign in the end, despite the losses and pains of war. Instead, Suzanne Collins paints a non-fiction picture of the realities of war in a fictional world. I described some of the things that happen in this book to Jon (who has extensively studied politics and war), and he assured me that with a few technological differences, there's nothing in this book that hasn't occurred somewhere on this planet in the last 200 years. Real war, unlike fictional war, is extremely ugly. I've read some interviews with Suzanne Collins about Mockingjay, and she's said that her purpose in writing this is to teach kids and teens about the realities of war that adults won't tell them about. And maybe she has a good point. But here's controversial question: does educating people about war (horrendous as it may be) really help prevent war? Probably. But it's not fun.

I'll be honest, this book is emotional and brutal. People you love with die. People who you thought were good with do terrible, awful things. Emotional scars will never heal. After I finished reading it, Jon found me sobbing on the couch. I'm an easy crier, but still.

Despite all that, I do feel like this is a book worth reading. I've had to take a couple of days to mourn to come to this conclusion, but I have made it here. I've been going through the book and reading a few parts again, and that helped me see hope and love in the last few pages where I missed it the first time (blame it on shock from some of the horrific events of the climax). Suzanne Collins has created a detailed and multi-layered story here. This entire series is a journey that is not for the faint-hearted, but if you read it you will come out changed.

Princess of Glass

This is another sweet story from Jessica Day George. It takes the tired out Cinderella plot and reinvents it in a beautiful way. I can't say, though, that I loved it as much as Princess of the Midnight Ball. And maybe it's just because I read it after Mockingjay. Unlike, Mockingjay, Princess of Glass IS a fairy tale. No one you love dies a horrible gruesome death and everyone who deserves it lives happily ever after. After reading Mockingjay, this book was actually very soothing on my scoured raw emotions. But, I can't help it if I found Princess of Glass just a little bit dull in comparison. The romance also left a little bit to be desired. In fact, a quote from the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie comes to mind...

Can the soul truly be satisfied with such... polite affections?

That about sums it up. I just had a hard time believing that this was a story about true love when the characters seemed so young and so... politely friendly to each other. Anyway, just my opinion. I still think it's a fabulous young teen book.


I've been interested in Fanny Burney as an author since last semester at school, mainly because she's cited as being such a big influence on Jane Austen. I did a couple of big projects on her and now I feel like I know her life and her works pretty well. I read Evelina and loved it! Her other big three novels are Cecilia, Camilla, and The Wanderer. I've particularly wanted to read Cecilia and Camilla for a while, because Jane Austen writes about them in Northanger Abbey, using Catherine Morland to give a little speech on how novels were received at the time:

‘And what are you reading, Miss — ?’ ‘Oh! It is only a novel!’ replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. ‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda’; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.

So, now that I've read Cecilia, do I agree with Ms. Austen? I don't know...

It's not a bad book... for the first 500 pages or so. I really loved Evelina, but Evelina is also much shorter than Cecilia (about 500 pages shorter). Cecilia is 940 pages. Even Fanny Burney thought it was too long, but she was under pressure to release it and didn't have time to edit it as much as she wanted. Also, during the Regency era melodramatic literature was considered the best. While Evelina has some crying and fainting, it's minimal. Cecilia takes it to the extreme. I enjoyed the beginning of the story, but eventually it became too much for me. Cecilia is about a young and beautiful heiress who can only retain her fortune if her husband takes her maiden name as his own. The premise is interesting, but I quickly grew irritated with all the overly dramatic plot points. Fainting, screaming, crying, suicide, dueling, death, loss of fortune, and it goes on and on and on.

I can see now why Fanny Burney no longer resonates with modern audiences like Austen does. Austen pares down her stories to universally understandable situations and people. Burney, on the other hand, loads down her books with details and situations that are specific to her time period. That doesn't bother me too much because I've studied the period, but I don't really relate to these novels like I relate to something by Austen.

At the same time, I have serious respect for Fanny Burney. She had a knack for capturing each of her characters' individual voices and a knack for writing dialogue like she was writing a screenplay. She also had a serious gift with language and was good friends with Samuel Johnson (author of the first English dictionary), and my dear friend, the Oxford English Dictionary, cites Fanny Burney's novels often as the first use of many words and phrases we use today. And, there's no denying that, as Cecilia and Camilla are often cited as some of Austen's favorite novels, Cecilia influenced Austen. There are obvious parallels between Mortimer Delvile (proud, rich young man from arrogant family) and Mr. Darcy. And then there's the fact that most scholars agree the title Pride and Prejudice comes from a line at the end of Cecilia:

"Remember: if to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination." (It really reads like that in the book too, with the bolded capital letters.)

So, to conclude this rather long book post, I'll just say that as an Austen/Burney nerd I found Cecilia worth reading, if not thoroughly enjoyable like Evelina.