Be My Valentine, Mr. Grey

dark-grey-silk-designer-tie_600I finally read all three of E L James’s blockbuster Fifty Shades trilogy. I read them at the urging of friends. I read them because when something this big occurs in the world of books, you want to form your own opinions. I read them because as a lifelong romance reader I was intrigued how a story that’s really a staple of the genre became so popular. Though there have been many, many reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, I am going to add my own impressions to the general din because hey, it’s my blog! AND because Valentine’s Day is my birthday. 😉

I’m not going to worry about announcing **SPOILERS** because I figure if you wanted to read 50 Shades, you already would have by now. And if you don’t want to read it, the spoilers won’t bother you.

Things I didn’t like in the 50 Shades books (AKA a few unanswered questions):

1. Why did Ms. James decide to set the series in Seattle if she was going to have her characters speak the Queen’s English? “Laters, baby.” “Kinky f**kery.” “Fancy a game?” All British-isms. Christian even says, “Quite.” I ask you, do you know any American men who would use that word in that way? Ever?

2. Why do we never find out why Anastasia is so inhibited about sex? We spend the whole story in her head but she never mulls over why she decided to hang on to her virginity and her apparent ignorance about things sexual until she met the enigmatic Mr. Grey.

3. Why did Kate Kavanaugh, college newspaper editor extraordinaire, send her roommate Anastasia Steele to interview Seattle’s hottest bachelor billionaire with only a list of questions and no other preparation? Did she have laryngitis in addition to her flu and couldn’t speak? This in a way is a deal breaker for me story-wise because this unbelievable set up both starts and ends the story (the ending is from Christian’s point of view. Wished for a little more of that…)

4. At the climax of Book 3, after everything they’ve been through, why does Christian STILL think Ana is leaving him when she withdraws $5 million to save his sister Mia from kidnappers (other than it is a necessary plot device)? This does not bode well for their continued happiness, IMO.

Things I DID like (AKA why Christian Grey would make a great Valentine):

1. He is constantly feeding her while telling her she’s too thin. 🙂

2. He also tells her she’s beautiful, smart, capable, and most of all, sexy.

3. He gives her things: clothes, cars (Audis!), first edition Thomas Hardy, trips to France, Laboutin’s, a publishing company, hearts and flowers, an iPad with all of his favorite songs downloaded, orgasms.

4. His “vanilla” sex gives new flavorful meaning to the finest of the flavors.

5. His non-vanilla dominant sex (what’s the opposite of vanilla? chocolate?) is creative, uses fun props, and (control issues aside) is all about Ana (see #3 orgasms). Except when it’s about jealousy or revenge, in which case there is always a safe word, and it’s not “vanilla.”

6. He thinks of her while he is at work. We know this because he sends her great emails. In fact the email exchange between the two was one of my favorite parts of the whole series.

I have read many, many romance novels–which is maybe why friends urged me to read these booksand regarding 50 Shades of Grey, I am more in the “meh” category than the “love,” so I offer this list of follow up reads:

NRChesapeakeIf you liked 50 Shades for the complex story of how a young man damaged by an abusive past–but good to the core–is redeemed by the power of love, there is no one who does that storyline better IMO than the Queen of Romance herself, Nora Roberts. Her Chesapeake Bay series Sea Swept, Rising Tide, Inner Harbor, and Chesapeake Blue are some of her best.

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If you liked 50 Shades for the singe-your-eyelashes sex with dominant men and the feisty women who love them, I recommend Lora Leigh’s EARLIER BOOKS, Wild Card (recently reprinted with a 50 Shades-type cover), Hidden Agendas, and Dangerous Games (I don’t recommend the later series because they suffer from repetition and a general lack of editing IMO).

If you liked 50 Shades for the escape of the “life style porn” of glamorous clothes, private jets, yachts in Monte Carlo,

caitlincrewsand brooding men who own all these things and want to give them (and their love!)  to one special, possibly virginal, young lady, try Harlequin’s long-running “Presents” series, particularly Jane Porter, Caitlin Crews, and India Grey. The books tend to have really off-putting titles like Bedded by the Billionaire and His Majesty’s Secret Baby but the writing is emotion-laden and intense.

Blinkie courtesy E L James author website.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!!! Anyone have great plans for V-day? Any book recommendations? Whatcha been reading lately?

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The Technology of Packaging Words: Digital vs. Print

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I have a book problem. Meaning because I love books, I have more than I probably can ever read, and yet I adore finding a new book, cracking it open and immersing myself in the story world. The hubster stated the other day that books should not be the ONLY decorating theme in our home, to which I replied, “Why the heck not?”

But I admit it is a problem, illustrated by these pics of my many, many bookshelves, from the spare and uncluttered one in the living room to the one actually jam-crammed inside a closet (just a sampling, I assure you). I could have one of those rooms with floor to ceiling shelves like the library of Downton Abbey (complete with a book-laden door that leads to the music room! Click link and scroll down for the picture) and STILL find more books I want to read. Don’t let him fool you, the hubster likes books too. Weighty tomes with weighty titles like The History of the World, Come Retribution, and Diseases of Animals, as well as Life of Pi and The Last Werewolf. My shelves, on the other hand, are a jumble (and I mean JUMBLE!) of romantic and historical fiction, history and biography, and writing craft books.

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And then there are my ebooks. I actually have a Kindle and an iPad (on which I have installed iBooks, Kindle, Nook, GooglePlay, AND Kobo apps). And the books are just as jumbled up there as they are on the shelves. Truth be known, I have a little stash of books in PDF on my computer too. All of which makes the argument of digital versus paper, for me, really about packaging. The MAGIC of a book is what is inside the package. Whether you open the cover or click on the icon, that’s just the delivery technology, the true innovation is the language itself.

If pressed, I would probably choose paper books as my story vehicle of choice, but only if I had unlimited shelf space–that decorating issue remains. With paper books, I feel a commonality with generations that have gone before me. I mean, Jane Austen held a book in her hand, opened it, and read the story contained therein. Just as I opened HER book, Pride and Prejudice, the other day and did the same. There was a time when people–humans–were NOT able to reach back in history and feel kinship with “book” readers. The printed word was new. A new technology, just like the digital book. But the STORIES, well, they were still around then, weren’t they?

Do you have a digital versus print preference for your reading? Or a shelf problem? Or a decorating theme you just can’t agree on? I’d love to hear about it…

Happy Anniversary, Pride and Prejudice!

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Today’s 200th anniversary of the printing of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
is (for me!) a perfect moment to announce my participation in Laurel Ann Nattress’s P&P Bicentenary Challenge. If you have been reading along, you already know I am a Jane Austen fan! In fact, this post on Jane’s Irish connections apparently was my most viewed in 2012.

Here are the basics of the Challenge (details can be found on Laurel Ann’s blog):

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Time-line: The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 runs January 1, through December 31, 2013.

Levels of participation: Neophyte: 1 – 4 selections, Disciple: 5 – 8 selections, Aficionada: 9 – 12 selections.

Enrollment: Sign ups are open until July 1, 2013. First, select your level of participation.  Second, copy the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 graphic from the Austenprose blog and include it in your blog post detailing the novels or movies that you commit to reading and watching in 2013. Third, leave a comment linking back to your blog post in the comments of the Austenprose announcement post. OR, if you do not have a blog you can still participate. Just leave your commitment to the challenge in the comments section of the P&P Bicentenary post.

My Selections

I found quite a few versions of Pride and Prejudice in my personal library, plus a few continuations, retellings and off-shoots. Enough to up my level of participation to Aficionada. What a great way to dive into some books that have languished in the To Be Read pile and to revisit my favorite movie adaptations of this most romantic classic. I don’t have months assigned to each one yet, but here is the list so far:

BOOKS

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brandt (2012)

Pride and Prejudice, The Annotated Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks (2010)

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (2011)

The Darcys and The Bingleys by Marsha Altman (2008)

The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Anne Collins (2008)

Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds (2008)

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos (2011)

FILMS

Pride and Prejudice (movie with Keira Knightly 2005)

Pride and Prejudice (BBC/A&E miniseries with Jennifer Ehle 1995)

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (movie with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier 1940)

I hope you will join me as we celebrate Jane Austen’s lasting legacy through the most popular and well-known of her novels, Pride and Prejudice.

“He walked here and he walked there, fancying himself so very great!” ~Mrs. Bennet in P&P

There WAS a Toilet In My Garage: Happy World Toilet Day…Again

Hey, would you look at that? It has been a little over a year since I launched Kecia’s Blog–All I Want Is…Everything on WordPress. My awareness of the passage of time came about because it is once again…World Toilet Day! I blogged about this annual event created by water.org last year at a time when toilets seemed particularly relevant for me since there were two of them taking up room in my garage. This year Matt Damon and friends have some great info on this most solvable of world issues at the water.org website. New video below: where would you go if you didn’t have a toilet? And water.org produced this cool poster about toilets for our enjoyment and education. Take a look and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY…ERM…WORLD TOILET DAY, to me!

MY NOVEMBER 17, 2011 POST BELOW

In my house we are currently in the middle of painting and sprucing our bathrooms. As a result we have a toilet (two actually, the old one and the new one in a box) in our garage. When you take such an an appliance, used on a daily basis, out of its natural, er, habitat, it looks a little odd. So shiny and pristine, like a sculpture. Since the old one is old enough not to be in working order, it almost makes me want to fill it with dirt and plant some petunias or pansies in it.

As much as I can take my toilets for granted, however, there are many in the world who don’t have that luxury. Interestingly, one of my favorite actors, Matt Damon, has lent his voice, time, and famous face to a crusade to bring toilets to those who need them. Here he is with a sound bite about diarrhea–a leading killer of children under five.

Matt has another couple of great quotes on video at toiletday.org (though what’s with the haircut? 🙂 ) plus a wealth of info on the problem of toilets (or lack of same) globally, and links to water.org , the organization he co-founded with Gary White. The Huffington Post recently covered water.org ‘s innovative methods to bring clean water and toilets to places where even charities have failed to make a difference.

The first step is awareness, hence the celebration of World Toilet Day on November 19th. At toiletday.org you can sign up to lend your voice via Facebook or Twitter. Or as Matt says, you can talk sh*t about toilets…

Because even though my house has a surplus right now, there are many who have no toilet at all. Something to think about…while you’re on the can.

Caffe’ al Vetro

We are currently without an espresso machine in our household. As my daughter would say: “Sad face.” 😦 We sent the Francis Francis X1 off to the repairman after five years of almost daily use. I think it needed a little pick me up. 😉 We are making do with our dark roast espresso ground Illy coffee in the Bialetti Moka, but I miss the visual delight of a well-pressed coffee. I came upon this vignette from Italian Notebook (an email I get weekly or so with little tidbits from Italy) about caffe’ al vetro–which made me miss the X1 even more. And also reminded me of one of my favorite scenes in my book, The Vendetta. A little excerpt for you below. Enjoy!

They left Trevi Fountain behind, and Nick turned down a small side street where they saw a man sweeping the stoop in front of a petite coffee bar. Nick said something to him in Italian that Lisa didn’t catch. The man put his broom aside and beckoned them in.

When she raised a brow in question Nick said, “He says he can fire up the espresso maker but it will take a few minutes. The cornetti are fresh, just delivered.”

Lisa grinned in anticipation.

They stepped into a tiny room furnished with a bar, an antique espresso machine, and a wall-sized mirror behind liquor bottles displayed on glass shelves. The scent of fresh-baked pastry wafted from two paper-wrapped boxes on the counter. Lisa chose a cornetto filled with a chocolate-hazelnut cream Nick said was Nutella.

Grazie.” She gestured toward the pastry in her hand. The man nodded and went back to his machine. She turned to Nick as he selected his own cornetto.

“What was that you were speaking to our proprietor?” she asked. “It sounded like Italian, but I couldn’t understand a word.”

Romanesco. Roman slang. Sort of like cockney to an English speaker,” he said.

She bit into her cornetto and then licked the sugar off her lips. She noticed Nick’s gaze riveted on her mouth as her tongue came out to catch a drip of chocolate.

“So you’re from Rome, then?” she asked. “Why do you speak English so well?”

“You’re very persistent, aren’t you?”

“And you’re not going to answer me, are you?”

“Look, Lisa—”

“You’re awfully stingy with details about yourself,” she interrupted cheerfully. “It makes me wonder what you exactly do as an exporter of luxury goods.”

She licked the tips of her fingers. “What do you export, Nick? Ladies lingerie? Silk drawers?”

He snorted.

“No? OK, how about drugs, then?”

He frowned slightly and shook his head. “Lisa—”

“No? Hmm, well, maybe it’s looted artifacts and stolen art.”

His frown became ferocious, and he stepped toward her, as if he wanted to shake her.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, the barista chose that moment to serve Lisa’s cappuccino. He set the steaming cup down on the bar next to her and offered the basket of sugar packets.

Prende il zucchero, Signorina?

Nick stepped back.

Glad for the distraction, Lisa selected a packet of sugar and then emptied it into her cup. The foamed milk was so thick the sugar stood for a moment on the surface before it slowly sank into the steaming liquid below. She stirred it with the little spoon from her saucer. She picked up the cup, took a sip, and saluted the man behind the counter, one barista to another. The drink was delicious.

Nick’s espresso came in a small shot glass with a dash of milk dotting the top.

“What do you call that?” Lisa asked as Nick took his first sip.

“It’s called a caffe macchiato al vetro. Coffee in a glass. You’re not familiar with it?”

She shook her head. “Why the shot glass?”

He shrugged. “For coffee purists. Glass is non-reactive so you get an unfiltered taste.” He turned up the little drink and took another sip.

When he didn’t say anything else, she returned to her coffee, trying to find another way through his curt reticence to the information she needed. She dunked the remaining bit of her cornetto in the creamy foam in her cup, savoring every last bite. When she looked up, she saw Nick watching her, his gray eyes flashing sliver.

“What?” She self-consciously grabbed a napkin.

“Finished?” he asked.

She nodded behind the small white square.

Nick put a few euros on the bar, thanked the man, and grabbed Lisa’s hand.

“Let’s walk,” he said.

Summer Breezes and Immortality

We’ve been enjoying some fabulous summer days here in Coastal Virginia. When I was sitting out on my back patio recently, the delightful weather brought to mind that most famous first line of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

So I looked up Sonnet 18. And here’s the thing about Shakespeare: there’s always more to his writing than one meets in the initial read.

First, here is the full text as taken from the 1609 Quarto Version and reproduced on shakespeares-sonnets.com :

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Now, a few things I found to fascinate me in this sonnet, which those of you more familiar with The Bard’s works may already know:

1) Shakespearean scholars are fairly unanimous in thinking that this poem and, in fact, roughly the first two-thirds of the 152 sonnets in the 1609 Quarto are addressed to a young man by the poet (also a man–Shakespeare). One interpretation I read concluded that this was not particularly shocking on Shakespeare’s part, but rather, a representation of pure love, or love untainted by desire. Another interpretation identified the young man referred to in the sonnets as a rival poet who competes with Shakespeare for the favor of the “dark” lady addressed in the latter third of the poems.

2) This sonnet is possibly the most quoted love poem in the English language.

3) The real aim of the poem, as contained in the final couplet, is to point out that a man (or woman) can be made immortal and unchanged by time through the wonder of words written down. A kind of technological breakthrough of parchment and quill.

4) The 1609 Quarto Version was published by one Thomas Thorpe, who in an echo of our 21st century concerns about pirating of copyrighted material may have stolen this version to compile and publish it without Shakespeare’s consent. (Though this point was debated in the research I read on the 1609 printing.)

In exploring this most famous “Summer’s Day” sonnet, I have found a new favorite in the Sonnets of Shakespeare. Sonnet 141 has a sharp, dark texture but it still extols love, ever mysterious.

Sonnet 141

In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes, 
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted;
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

“The poet runs through a catalogue of the senses, to see what it is that attracts him to his mistress. In fact he finds nothing, and therefore concludes that it must be some perverseness in his heart that forces him to love her and to be her slave. His reward is that she gives him penances for the sin he is committing in loving her….There is therefore an element of parody in this sonnet of Shakespeare’s…For that reason it brings us down to earth with a bump, for it tears us away from the tortured conceits of the sonneteers, and perhaps from our own idealisations of the beings we love, and forces us to accept that the things we love often have an earthly and earthy beauty, much less than a divine one. For we also know that love is a power beyond rationality, and that it does not depend on the beloved being made of coral, or ivory, or rubies, but of flesh and blood with all its imperfections.” —shakespeares-sonnets.com

To that I say, “Yes. Oh, YES!”

Do you have a favorite sonnet or poem? Would you rather capture pure, untainted love or earthy, real love in your writing? Does writing something down make it immortal?

Seals and Crofts Summer Breeze from 1972

Love on a bike…and off

Because I am involved in my own small way in the sport of bike racing, bicycling stories interest and inspire me. In my internet surfing this week I turned up two unusually moving stories about life on and off the bike. While it’s true that writers use sports analogies early and often to drive home points about sacrifice, achievement, and life, often their message is about sacrifice of time, other activities, and relationships FOR one’s sport. The stories below, however, have a bit of a different spin. They talk instead about sacrificing the sport itself, for love.

Alison talking about Tim: “He’s amazing. He’s the strongest person I know”.

Tim about Alison and his definition of love:

“Since the accident…it’s not always about that next adventure. We just enjoy each other’s company. My definition of love: caring for someone so much that you are absolutely and completely willing to put their needs above your own…and not ask why. Just do it.”

And the thing is, a true impression of selflessness rings through in Dr. Tim Delgado’s voice.

As I was absorbing the emotional moments of the Delgados’ story, I happened upon another headline on the ESPN site: Cyclist Willow Rockwell gives up her Olympic dream

It turns out that back in the beginning of April, champion mountain biker Willow Rockwell, somewhere in her lead up to an Olympic spot, decided to give it all a pass. Right before the 2011 World Cup Championships, she’d discovered she was pregnant and had taken time off to have her baby, Raven, and recover. She was gearing up for her next goal, victory in the 2012 World Cup and a chance at the Olympics, when something else clicked into place. In her words from her website post discussing her decision to retire from bike racing:

“In giving birth to my daughter, I also gave birth to an aspect of myself that was buried deep within. The woman. The lover. The feminine mysteries. I have found a love that transcends bike racing.”

I, for one, find it incredibly courageous of Willow Rockwell to admit to herself and to the world that these things she’s talking about have value–beyond her achievement in her chosen profession of mountain bike racing. Women need to say this more often. They need to say it often enough that we don’t wince at the sheer feminine sentiment of it. Here’s a bit more from Willow:

“My soul needs my baby. My soul needs laughter and contentment. My soul has expanded, and I had to let myself catch up with it. When I was in South Africa, I looked around and everything felt wrong. My heart and soul were not there anymore. My body was a shell of it’s former self, just going through the motions. Living is not going through the motions. Living is being engaged, with awe and wonder, in every moment. I have decided to live.”

Just like Allison Delgado decided to live, and her husband decided to enjoy Allison not just for the mountains they could climb and activities they could do, Willow Rockwell gave up a competitive career in bike racing to be with herself and her family. Maybe I am reading too much into a simple human interest story, but this is really the essence of humanity for me–how giving up an external driver (a dream, a goal) can often open you up to new possibilities for love and achievement.

The whole topic put me in mind of a quote from writer and teacher Holly Lisle’s blog:

“Every dream has a price. You need to know this now, because the price can be enormous, and if you don’t know about it in advance, you can wake up one day to find that you have paid with everything you ever loved, and what you have to show for all of that isn’t enough.”

So when is it okay to stop striving for a goal? Have any of you ever quit something you worked for, only to find you were better off?