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.

wildcard2012lg

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?

Advertisements

Happy Anniversary, Pride and Prejudice!

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x150
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

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

Slainte: Did the Irish Really Save Civilization?

One of my favorite history books, Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, is a slim volume that became a national bestseller in the mid-1990s. This is from the back cover copy:

In this entertaining and compelling narrative, Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Without Ireland, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization — copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost — they brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task.

If you like audiobooks, try the abridged version with Liam Neeson reading. The way he rolls the names Cuchulainn, Derdriu, and Medb, and the characters and places from the Tain Bo Cuailnge (an early Irish prose epic) off of his native Irish tongue–truly yummy.

As with many popular historical narratives, bona fide historians have objected to Cahill’s scholarship and failure to prove his thesis. To be sure, his subject ranges over several centuries and tends to gloss over certain facts in order to make his point. But like the best storytellers, Cahill lays down the fall of Rome and the rise of Irish Christianity with all the verve of an Irish bard—with many a wink, wink at Irish culture—and, best of all, he invites the reader in to ponder the “what ifs” of history. What if the works of Virgil, Homer, Juvenal, Martial, Ausonius, Cicero, Ovid, and so many other pillars of western and Latinate literature had been lost to book-burning barbarian hordes pillaging Rome and popes uninterested in “classical” interpretations? What does Western Civilization owe to the 7th, 8th, and 9th century scriptoria of Landisfarne, Skellig Michael, Glendalough, Kildare, and Armagh? Fortunately for his argument, Cahill does not hold back in his estimation of the forces at work:

…Latin literature would almost surely have been lost without the Irish, and illiterate Europe would hardly have developed its great national literatures without the example of the Irish, the first vernacular literature to be written down. Beyond that, there would have perished in the west not only literacy but all the habits of mind that encourage thought…
Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies’ heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile [in continental Europe], they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.
And that is how the Irish saved civilization.

Though he hammers home this larger impact of monkish diligence, it is through his portraits of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and the princely monk Columcille that Cahill humanizes the early Irish-Christian efforts to transfer the literature of the ancients to sheepskin books, for posterity. He also makes the case that the Irish were uniquely situated to take on this mission (for one thing, they have plenty of sheep in Ireland!). Finally, he makes short work of the idea of the “ignorant scribe” who unknowingly transcribed the works of the greats by rote:

Beneath a description of the death of Hector on the Plain of Troy, one scribe, completely absorbed in the words he is copying, has written most sincerely: “I am greatly grieved at the above-mentioned death.”

As are we, poor Hector. Thanks to the Irish.

Are there any “what ifs” of history you find particularly intriguing? The Codex (bound book) was considered an advance in technology over the scroll. Can you imagine entire books being copied by hand?