Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let's Talk About Edith Wharton

I believe in soul mates, sort of, for authors and readers, the kind of reading relationship that even lifelong readers find only once in a blue moon. You read a handful of pages and have to stop because it’s like this writer was inside your head while penning this book. Your ideas of and outlook on life sync up so well that it becomes impossible to remember a time before you’d discovered this writer. And it’s reciprocal, because, after gleaning all the wisdom and empathy possible, you go out and recommend this book and this writer to all your friends. You can’t stop talking about it. It sneaks into every conversation.

For me, that author is Edith Wharton. It's her birthday, so let me tell you a little about her. Edith Wharton was a literary bamf. In addition to over 20 novels, she wrote poetryshort stories, and nonfiction like The Decoration of HousesItalian Villas and their Gardens, and In Morocco. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for The Age of Innocence and was the first female recipient. She moved to France and did relief work following WWI. She wrote novels of manners (think: Jane Austen), but used them to expose the hypocrisy of it all and how trapped you could be in your life. It's brilliant. She's brilliant. And the awesome news for you is that most of her stories are in the public domain!

Some of my fave EW books and stories:

Roman Fever - It's short and so worth your time.

Xingu - A bit longer, but very zinging.


This book is so short. You could read it in an afternoon. It's about a love triangle between Ethan and his wife, Zenobia, and her cousin, Mattie. It will mess with your emotions, but in the best way, in the Edith Wharton way.


About Lily Bart, a 29-year-old socialite who has declined to marry. When it becomes clear that she needs to in order to keep up her lifestyle, she attempts to find a husband suitable to both society and herself. My first EW book. A masterpiece. Glorious. I've read it about half a dozen times, and I'm listening to it again now.


This is a rom-com EW style! you've got a marriage of convenience, missing cigars, and dubious morals. What's not to love?


Ah, this is probably my favorite novel. EW left it unfinished when she died, but Marion Mainwaring, a Wharton scholar, finished it in the '90s. It's about love and friendship (inspired by her own friendship with her governess) and growing up. Weirdly, it's probably one of her happiest books.

Some of my fave EW quotes:
"‘The greatest mistake,’ she mused, her chin resting on her clasped hands, her eyes fixed unseeingly on the dim reaches of the park, ‘the greatest mistake is to think that we ever know why we do things. …I suppose the nearest we can ever come to it is by getting what old people call “experience.” But by the time we’ve got that we’re no longer the person who did the things we no longer understand. The trouble is, I suppose, that we change every moment; and the things we did stay.'" - The Buccaneers

"I don’t know if I should care for a man who made life easy; I should want someone who made it interesting."

"There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, but an expansions, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul."

"In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways."

"We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?" - The Age of Innocence

"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

"Ah, there's the difference--a girl must [marry], a man may if he chooses." - The House of Mirth

"What is truth? Where a woman is concerned, it's the story that's easiest to believe." - The House of Mirth

"Half the trouble in life is caused by pretending there isn't any." - The House of Mirth

"If only we'd stop trying to be happy we'd have a pretty good time."

"Life is always either a tightrope or a featherbed. Give me the tightrope."

(Rest of the sources to come, since a lot of these I collected on goodreads or in word files.)

Some interesting EW tidbits:
- She wrote ghost stories.
- She moved to France later in life (and wrote about it). The street on which she lived is now called rue Edith Wharton.
- She was given an honorary doctorate from Yale, and the Yale library has a collection of her letters and manuscripts.
- She was good friends with Henry James.
- The Mount is thought to be haunted. Ghost Hunters filmed an episode on it.
- She was rewarded the Chevalier Legion of Honour for her relief and refugee work in France during World War I.

Oh, yeah, and she designed her own house:
The Mount - It's in Massachusetts, and it's gorgeous! Go visit!
In conclusion: Happy Birthday, Edith Wharton!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Reading Year in Review

Since I've been in grad school, I haven't been reading for fun as much as I'd like. This past semester, I made a conscious effort, with some success, to read more books that weren't for school. Here are my five favorite books I read this year.

5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

A friend recommended this to me. I went through a few stages while reading it. (1) This is interesting. I like the setting and the idea. (2) Oh, come on. Another teen love story? (3) Wow. The writing is gorgeous.

Thank goodness I didn't stop after stage two. I still haven't picked up the rest of the trilogy, but it's only from lack of time, not lack of interest.

"Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters?"

4. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

This was the first book I read for a class in romance subgenres and one of the first books I read this year. It was different than I expected from the cover synopsis, but it was imaginative and full of wonder.

"I have been surrounded by love letters you two have built each other for years, encased in tents."

3. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham

I remember listening to this audiobook a few years ago, maybe when I was in college. It left a much bigger impression on me this time around. Kitty isn't an extremely likable character, but she's a remarkably relatable one, at least to me. Very rarely, I read books that make me stop and wonder how the author got into my head, and I love that.

"I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art."

2. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

I think, for a 26-year-old girl, I probably put a lot more faith than I should in a boy who refuses to grow up. Somehow, this book slipped through the cracks when I was growing up, so this was the first time I read it, and it's one of those cases when I read a book at the exact right moment in my life. It's funny and adventurous with an undercurrent of serious observations about the world and especially about growing up.

"To live will be an awfully big adventure."

1. Lovestar, Andri Snaer Magnason

Oh, my goodness, this book was so strange and so wonderful. Another recommendation from a friend, this Icelandic book is one I never would have found on my own. It's set in the future, when mankind has been freed from its reliance on cords by the harnessing of animal waves, and the story juxtaposes the life of Lovestar, the scientist who was responsible for this technology, with the lives of Indridi and Sigrid, two young lovers who believe they're meant to be together. It's very different, but in a refreshing I-didn't-know-I-needed-this kind of way.

"A seed becomes a tree becomes a forest green as a carpet. An egg becomes a bird becomes birds fill the sky like clouds.

An egg becomes a bump becomes a man becomes mankind, manufactures cars, writes books, builds houses, lays carpets, plants forests, and paints pictures of clouds and birds.

In the beginning all this must have been contained in the egg and the seed. Forest. Birds. Mankind."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Writing Retreat Photos

the sword in the stone - King Arthur Literary Park
Hopkinsville Community College; Hopkinsville, KY

the round table

Melpomene, the muse of tragedy

writers of the round table

our lovely B&B - Futrell House
Cadiz, KY

I Survived My 100-Day Hiatus

I'm back! I did better on my Tumblr hiatus than on Facebook because my class has a group on FB that we use to keep in touch, stay on top of classes and submissions, and be general goofballs. This blog didn't miss much, mostly because I don't do much besides school and work. But I did mostly finish my second draft (minus a battle scene), went on a writing retreat in Kentucky and visited King Arthur Literary Park, and adopted a greyhound. I named her Elphie, though she is neither green nor beautifully tragic.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MSFF: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

My friend at work (who speaks fluent French) lent me some French movies last week. I’ve been trying to get a good mix of movies from different languages and countries, but I’ve really enjoyed every French movie I’ve watched. I don’t know if French film is generally a cut above the rest or if the only ones I have access to are the best ones, but either way, I’m enjoying myself (and eating a lot of crepes and baguettes).

Based on a true story, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, a successful magazine editor who suffers a stroke and must learn to live with locked-in syndrome, which leaves him unable to do anything but blink and, eventually, move his head a little bit. With the help of a physical therapist and a speech therapist, he utilizes a new way to communicate. Someone recites the alphabet in order of frequency, and when they reach the appropriate letters, he blinks once. And so on until he communicates first a word and then a sentence. In this way, he undertakes to write a book about his life.

It’s a beautiful, quiet film that touches on how and what we value in life. Communication is oftentimes taken for granted. With email, texting, phone calls, Skype, and other things, we don’t even have to be in the same room or the same city to have a conversation. As a writer, I think it’s important to recognize the weight that words can and do have and to be mindful of how we communicate.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The 100-Day Hiatus

Starting today, I’ll be logging out of Facebook and (much worse) Tumblr for 100 days. I had an easier time limiting distractions when I was writing my first draft. But my life is crazy busy, and now that I’m on my second and focusing on revisions, it’s a lot tougher. I get stuck on the smallest things. My first deadline is next Tuesday, and if I’m having this much trouble cobbling together 60 pages, it’s not going to get easier once my teaching class starts in August.

So with the help of a friend at work, I decided to eliminate my two biggest timewasters. When I hit a snag in a scene or even in a sentence, my tendency is to head to one of these websites to ‘let it percolate,’ but I really just waste time. I don’t even use Facebook a whole lot besides posting pictures of baseball parks, but I do use it to keep up with my far-away friends (which are most of them). And Tumblr is magnificent because it’s all about (for me, at least) being enthusiastic about the things I love, including writing, reading, and Orphan Black. I’ll still be writing blog posts, though, and I’m not falling off the grid completely!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

MSFF: Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

I’ve been watching these movies in short 20- or 30-minute chunks before I go to sleep or on my lunch breaks. But I started Mere Brother Ki Dulhan last night and had to force myself to stop watching so I could get some sleep. And then instead of being productive when I woke up, I finished watching it.

When Luv, living in London, gets into a fight with his girlfriend of five years, Piall, they break up and he calls his brother, Kush, working as a famous film director in Mumbai, for help in finding him a traditional Indian girl to be his bride. However, when Kush meets Dimple, whom he’d known briefly years before, sparks fly. She’s lively and different and unapologetic for it, and she proves to be a perfect complement to Kush’s quiet yet caring nature.

It’s a situation that could easily become silly and but it’s never played for stupid laughs like American rom-coms are so fond of (okay, there’s maybe one instance). The ample length of the film (145 minutes) lends itself to a fully fleshed love story, with the first half allowing the relationship between Kush and Dimple to grow naturally. It’s not unpredictable by any means, but for me, part of the charm of rom-coms is the certainty that, despite all the issues plaguing them, the hero and heroine will end up together in about two hours.

I am somewhat familiar with Bollywood films, though I don’t watch them often. I haven’t watched one in a while, so I forgot how much fun they can be. It wasn’t until the first full song and dance number that I remembered that was a Bollywood staple. Sometimes I wish it would be a Hollywood staple, too! The musical numbers are basically music videos, complete with wind machines and fire, in the middle of a movie. It’s an experience which could be jarring for viewers unfamiliar with Bollywood but which ultimately ends up contributing to the lighthearted, romantic flavor of the film.