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Tag Archives: classic novels

or, less high-falutingly, the aaaaw factor.
Isn’t this the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Definitely cuter than Jeremy Northam, smarter than Orlando Bloom, more adept at drilling its way into hazelnuts than Sean Bean and the rest… Muscardinus avenallarius aka the dormouse, aka the hazel dormouse, dory mouse, sleeping mouse, sleeper, seven sleeper, or chestle crumb. Shown at left in one of its typical pursuits, the dormouse spends about three quarters of its time asleep, including a hefty hibernation from fall to spring.

The dormouse is native to Europe and in England lives mainly in wooded areas and coppices in the south. Because of changing agricultural practices and the destruction of ancient hedgerows, the dormouse is now a protected species.

Lewis Carroll immortalized the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, where the dormouse is subjected to various indignities (to keep it awake and either encourage or prevent it from speaking), including being stuffed into the teapot.

Byron (yes, this is the Regency tie-in) made this comment on life:
When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation), sleep, eating and willing, buttoning and unbuttoning–how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse.

Inviting your favorite rodent stories and reminiscences, or comments on Shakespeare, St. George and dragons since I’ve just noticed the date and realized any of those would have been a more appropriate post!

winner of first annual BWAHA award, Series Historical for Dedication

Yesterday I read a movie blog entry by Jim Emerson (which can be found on Roger Ebert’s review site) called “101 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” Emerson says they are not necessarily the “best” movies, or even his favorites, but “the movies you just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies.”

It was a very interesting (and very debatable!) list. I think I’ve seen less than half of them. Some of them are favorites of mine (Bringing Up Baby, The Seven Samurai, Wizard of Oz), some I haven’t seen at all but always kinda mean to (The 400 Blows–which sounds oddly like something from Ellora’s Cave–as well as Aguirre The Wrath of God, Battleship Potemkin, Nosferatu, etc), and some are pretty obvious (Godfather I and II, Persona, Rebel Without a Cause). Now, I enjoy movies very much, but since I haven’t seen so many of these does this mean I should never attempt to discuss them? Does it mean I’m less “worthy” as a movie-goer than someone whose favorite movie is, say Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (as it was with an ex-boyfriend of mine)? And what does it say about me that I am a sucker for these “countdown” lists???

Megan’s post about To Kill a Mockingbird also reminded me of all this. One of my favorite books is War and Peace. For one thing, I’m a sucker for long, sad, navel-gazing Russian novels (I definitely DON’T want to know what that says about me!!!). For another, it shows “our” period from a different viewpoint and culture, which I love. But do I think this is a must-read for everyone, and anyone who hasn’t read it is an incomplete person who should never discuss literature? Well–no. Otherwise, the fact that I have never been able to read Moby-Dick would disqualify me.

All this rambling is just meant to ask–what are your personal “must-see” movies, “must-read” books? How did they affect you, or change your life? I think I need to add to my “must-see before I die” list. 🙂

Last week, I attended the New England Chapter of the Romance Writers of America Conference.

But this post is not about what I learned about craft, Regency undergarments, writing sex scenes, themes and images, and what it sounds like when a room full of women hears there’s chocolate about to be served.

This is about not reading. During one of the workshops, the presenter mentioned Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and said everyone should have read it, and if you hadn’t, shame on you.

I’ve never read it. How could this have happened? I’m totally embarrassed. I don’t know exactly how I missed it; I was an English major in college, before that took a lot of high school English classes, both my parents were avid readers. And somehow, I missed it.

It’s not like I haven’t read a lot of classics; besides the ubiquitous Jane, I’ve read all of Dickens, Fitzgerald, Wharton, and various books by Nabokov, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Woolf and Hammett (for fun, check out the top 100 list, but don’t get in a tizz about the inclusions and ommissions; it’s not worth it). I’ve read indiscrimately, but have never opened Ms. Lee’s classic, and only, work.

So–have you read TKAM? Do you agree it is a classic? What classics have you missed out on? Do you plan to read them in the future? What makes a classic, anyway? And do you think I should feel as ashamed as I do?



Posted in Reading | Tagged , | 18 Replies

Last week I blogged about favorite books when I was a kid including at least one writer loathed by teachers. That got me thinking about books forced upon me at school that nearlyput me off the authors for life. And in fact I recently re-read one of them, Cranford, and loved it (thanks, Pam Rosenthal, for suggesting it). I was wondering what other books, or authors, others encountered at the wrong time and place, school or elsewhere, and how you’ve come to terms–or not–with them.

Cranford by Mrs. Gaskell was chosen by educators for its length, I think. It’s a very short novel, mainly a series of vignettes about life among the spinsters of a small provincial English town in the 1840s. I can’t really find any other reason to inflict it on a bunch of teenage girls who were fantasizing about marrying John, Paul, George, or Ringo. We were totally clueless about what the novel was even about or when it was set. I had the vague impression it was set in America, as there was a reference early on to “the railroad” and not railway–apparently an early Victorian term. I think we’d have responded much better to Wives and Daughters (yes, I’m always going on about Wives and Daughters), which is so romantic (but long), and with a decidely modern outlook on mother-daughter relationships. And then there’s always the hero and his famous knobstick in North and South (which I tried to re-read recently but found heavy going).

Continuing the catalogue of literary disasters, we were also inflicted with Silas Marner by George Eliot. Guess what: it’s short. It’s a very difficult book. It’s particularly tedious if you’re trying to guess the inseam measurement of Mick and the boys. Now I think we would have loved the teenage angst of Mill on the Floss (not my favorite), or Dorothea and her toyboy Ladislaw in Middlemarch. Or even the uberhot Daniel Deronda (though he is fairly boring) and naughty Gwendolyn Harleth.

Sadly, Thomas Hardy was represented by Under the Greenwood Tree. I still have no idea what it was about. I remember a lot of smock-clad yokels pontificating away about life, the universe, and everything, and a scene the teacher (bless her heart) described as being extremely risque, when the heroine appears at an open window with her hair down (the hopeless tart). It’s so sad. To think we could have had the rampant romanticism of Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Far from the Madding Crowd (both made into terrific movies).

Tell us about your near misses!

There’s a new film coming out called Tristam Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story, which “attempts to shoot the adaptation of Laurence Sterne‘s essentially unfilmable novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.” Tristam Shandy, if you’ve never read it, is a brilliant, frustrating, hysterical deconstructed novel written in the eighteenth century. It is a totally modern novel, despite being written almost 300 years ago, and Sterne’s ability to play with language and go off on tangents is comparable to twentieth-century masters such as Joyce and Pynchon.

But I’m not hear to blab about the Modern Novel, although at a more erudite time, I probably would be. As I was thinking about the Tristam Shandy movie, and how funny–and oddly true to the book’s spirit–it sounded, I was thinking about other books I read that were “classic” works of literature, and how the movies (with the clear exception of Jane Austen) just don’t evoke the same feel. And let me say there’s nothing I like more than a good–or bad–historical movie. Now, here’s where you can start wracking your brain to find more exceptions on the good side of the equation (Oh, the 1973 Three Musketeers springs to mind, actually–but Dumas was a better storyteller than a writer). Thackeray‘s Vanity Fair toned down the single-minded ruthlessness of Becky Sharpe; Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon was beautiful, but s-l-o-o-w. Henry Fielding‘s Tom Jones did a pretty good job, but lost some of the nuanced jibes that made the book’s narrative so biting (and Fielding was a darn good storyteller, too).
There have been a few versions of Wuthering Heights, all of which spotlight the oftentimes ridiculous melodrama of Emily Bronte’s prose, but miss the poignant heartbreak and longing of your first crush/obsession. Jonathan Swift‘s Gulliver’s Travels totally missed the scathing satire. There’s also Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, the many incarnations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons (and its wimpy younger brother, Valmont)

(Caveat: Of course there are the A&E/BBC/Other Initialed creations, but they have more than two or three hours to get the job done, so they can stick to the book better.)

Of books that haven’t yet been made into films, I’d suggest Francois RabelaisGargantua And Pantagruel, a brilliant, bawdy, grotesque, sophmoric, clever book. I also think it’d be fun to read some of those ‘horrid novels’ Regency heroines (and sometimes heroes) are always reading (and sometimes writing) and see if any of those would make fun films.

So here’s where the class participation comes in: What movies have done a good job at bringing a classic novel to life? And what classic books would you like to see made into movies that haven’t been already?

Thanks for recommending some more for my film queue,


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