Tuesday, May 8, 2018

My review of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

No wonder Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is a classic!

Sense and sensibility, represented respectively in sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, carry them through romantic hopes and dashed hopes in Victorian Devonshire. They both fall in love with men they cannot have and after ups and downs, twists and turns, end up in marriages with reliable men. Their different approaches to romantic disappointment are consistent with their approaches to many other situations among family and friends. Indeed, the foibles of this Jane Austen’s novel’s cast of characters give Elinor and Marianne many opportunities to display their sense (reason) and sensibility (emotionality).

Would that today’s society had the good sense to practice Elinor Dashwood’s Victorian communication habits of courteous truth-telling and thinking the best of others. Sometimes she even has to fight to think fine motivations for foolish behavior. She must feel the fool herself while withholding judgment on such egregious acts of inconsideration. Her reason and good sense also include respecting promises and others’ decisions, even when they hurt her.

Even feelings-led, superficiality-satisfied, romantic-notioned Marianne (representing sensibility) grows to realize that character counts.

Sense and Sensibility is an epiphany enthusiast’s dream novel. Some characters, of course, remain blind, self-centered fools, but others humbly learn valuable lessons from their mistakes. Austen’s dialogue is lively. I would have liked to have known energetic Mrs. Jennings. The warmth of the Dashwood family (at least Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters) inspires. I enjoy Austen’s dry wit in this novel. Often it comes in Fanny’s outrageously convoluted, self-congratulating excuses why she cannot help Elinor and Marianne. Sometimes the humor comes in the differences between sense and sensibility, such as this scene in which Elinor and Marianne reminisce about their former home, Norland:

“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not every one,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.” [pages 93, 94 in my edition]

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Dunn Museum grand reopening

A recent Saturday was the grand opening of the Lake County Museum, now called the Dunn Museum, in its new location. We heard a fascinating lecture by paleoartist Tyler Keillor on how he crafted the museum’s dryptosaurus dinosaur model. Both his scientific research and artistic methods were interesting. This dino is based on bones found in New Jersey in mid-1800s—only about half a dozen bones though, so the model seems fairly speculative.

Museum exhibits take people from prehistoric times, through Native American settlements, through the 1800s and 1900s into this century, all with a focus on Lake County, Illinois. For example, there’s an 1864 letter from a Civil War soldier to his sister in Lake County.

In the simulated classroom are a local family’s ancestor’s textbooks like Appleton’s School Reader, a primer that competed with the popular McGuffey Reader in the late 1800s. My grandma used McGuffey Readers in Indiana at the turn of the century, and I love knowing she learned to read by reading bible stories and classic literature, including challenging poetry. And Dick, Jane, and Spot primers of the 1950s were thought to be an improvement on McGuffey?

Videos narrated by journalist Bill Kurtis depict famous Lake County events (train robbery) and inventions (35mm movie projector).

I loved working at the Lake County Museum eons ago, and Saturday I tracked down my former boss, who declined to be photographed but wanted a photo of the first person (me) she hired to work on the one-million-plus postcard collection with the last person (Rebecca) she hired to work on the collection. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter memories

Wrinkling our noses at the pungent vinegar smell, we four kids dipped white eggs into egg-dye water in Mom’s teacups lining the center of the kitchen table. When we were little, we probably knelt on chairs to reach and fought over whose turn it was to use the copper wire dipper. When we were older, we probably had more of a team spirit, taking turns with dipper, wax decorating pencil, and chick and bunny stickers. But at all ages, we were excited to prepare for the egg hunt Easter morning.

Meanwhile, Mom sewed new Easter dresses for us girls. She took us shopping for pretty hats. We sang along with her, “In My Easter Bonnet” around the house. On Easter Sunday, Dad lined us up in front of the house in our new finery for the obligatory Easter photo. As pretty as those flowery hats were, when I was a teen, I scowled to have to wear them. And white gloves.

I loved Easter egg hunts. The pastel woven baskets were so pretty, and one was just for me. We knew all Mom’s favorite hiding places—on windowsills, behind pillows, above picture frames. Before returning my found eggs to be refrigerated, while they were in my basket, I loved to look at them in all their purple- and pink-spattered beauty. Mom always put chocolate eggs and rabbits in each basket, too. Oh, chocolate eggs! Then came jelly bean trades among us kids—I would trade any of my flavors for their licorice jelly beans. Some years, after all the eggs had been found and counted, we’d cover our eyes while a designated “Easter Bunny” re-hid all the eggs so we could have the fun of the hunt again.

I do not recall much connection between colorful eggs and chocolate candy and Resurrection Sunday back then. My family church’s deep purple draping on the cross was exchanged for brilliant white. The church itself did not smell any more or less like incense and melted candle wax, save fragrant pots of tall white lilies at the altar’s base. That Jesus had risen from the dead I believed to be miraculous, but not personal. Easter’s true celebration was almost incidental to the fun of Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts.

Decades later, when I realized I had spilled way more than egg dye on my life, and those spills could not be wiped clean with a dishcloth—they needed forgiveness by a divine Savior—I came to see the incomprehensibly humbling glory of Jesus’ death and resurrection … for me. Now I’ve flipped Easter priorities—celebrating and loving Jesus back come first, colorful eggs second.

Shhh … don’t tell anyone, but early tomorrow, after I sing Easter thanks and praises to my Jesus, I may casually peek behind the curtains just in case my husband has hidden any of the eggs we dyed today.  

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13

Friday, March 30, 2018

Quite a Year for Plums ~ my review

Quite a Year for Plums Oh, the wit and wisdom of Hilma, Eula, and Meade in Quite a Year for Plums! Though called a novel, Quite a Year for Plums is more a series of vignettes from the lives of the aforementioned ladies. Author Bailey White has created a thoroughly enjoyable cast of characters from the southern Georgia town where Hilma, Eula, and Meade observe, support, snipe, reminisce, and engage with their families, neighbors, and agrarian culture.

The book contains a little romance, mostly failed or unfulfilled, poignant moments, and a LOT of humor. I laughed often at little absurdities and endearing oddities, not the least of which was the characters’ absorption with technical names of birds and plants. I found one chapter completely hilarious and many others pretty funny, too.

After finishing Quite a Year for Plums, I’m heading to my library to look for more of what Bailey White has written. How often do you get to smile all the way through a novel? When do you get to marvel at an author’s finely honed—I mean spare, no word wasted—dialogue? When do you want to sign up for a writer’s very next writing class on the concept of “show, don’t tell”? Heck, if Bailey White were teaching a class on creating strong characters, I’d sign up for that one, too.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin ~ my take

Holocaust hatred ripples into present-day Paris in the life of Jules Lacour, protagonist of Mark Helprin's novel Paris in the Present Tense. Jules Lacour's story is intricately wrought. He loves deeply, loyal to his daughter and grandson and late wife's and parents' legacies. In his mid-seventies, he feels society's cruel discarding of older people, even an extraordinary cellist and musician such as himself. Lacour is a Jewish Parisian with horrific Holocaust memories that drive his present life. He may have been fighting with God his whole life, but today he has no fear; in a way, the Holocaust made him who he became.  The palpable tension I felt as his story unfolded made me wonder if perhaps the word "Tense" in the book's title has a double meaning. The ending satisfied me that both justice and love triumphed. But then, I reflected that other readers might have thought the opposite ending would also depict love and justice. A case could be made either way ...

I am glad I read this book despite the tension. And if you like stomach-knottingly suspenseful page-turners, then this book is for you! I enjoyed Helprin's colorful, insightful descriptions, though I often got bogged down in their length. And Lacour's dialogue often reads like essays or poems he might have written; in my experience, even cerebral fellows like Jules don't talk as he does in this book. If you get Paris in the Present Tense, check out Jules' description of music as the voice of God [page 88], his theory about the power of photographs [page 89] ~ both lovely ~ and his observations of landlines vs. cellphones [page 323] ~ funny.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles ~ my review

10054335Oh my. Amor Towles’ elegant writing is such a pleasure to read. After reading his novel Rules of Civility, I could not possibly decide which I enjoy more, his metaphors or his observations. His scene one-page one commentary on why people at narrator Katey Kontent’s party were literally drunk reads: “In the 1950s, America had picked up the globe by the heels and shaken the change from its pockets … So all of us were drunk to some degree.” Such colorful, insightful descriptions continue as Katey’s 1938 flashback unfurls to reveal what happened to Tinker Grey.

Katey Kontent is as appealing a heroine as I’ve met in any novel. In her mid-twenties, Katey is one sharp cookie as she discerns that people and relationships are not always what they seem. She relates to friends Eve Ross, Tinker Grey and his brother Hank, Anne Grandyn, Wallace Wolcott, and other assorted characters with spunky honesty and genuine kindness. They dream; they dare each other; and they decide what to pursue and what to discard. Their deeds and misdeeds depict post-Depression New York City, youth in any era, lifestyles of different social strata.

What a buoyant year Katey had in 1938! In Rules of Civility, she remembers 1938’s loves and losses from her 1966 mature view of life’s choices. What might have happened? We’ll never know. One thing we do know is that Katey Kontent’s memories of 1938 are vibrant, pivotal, and altogether fascinating—some tinged with rusty regret, some gilt with grandeur.

“And for the moment, we let ourselves imagine that we were still in Max’s diner—with our knees knocking under the tabletop and seagulls circling the Trinity steeple and all the brightly colored possibilities dangled by the New Year still within our reach. Old times, as my father used to say: If you’re not careful, they’ll gut you like a fish.” [page 75 in my edition]

Adding to the delights of this novel is its Appendix: “Young George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” You’ll just have to read the book to find out why it’s included.