Please vote for Pride & Prejudice — The Great American Read on PBS.

Via JASNA, the Great American Read, a new feature on PBS television, is doing an online poll of favorite books, and reminding folks to please vote for Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!

Here is the link/URL —



Literary Digression: On Bookcrossing & moving books around the city.

Bookcrossing is not a traditional book club. To note, Bookcrossing(dot)com was founded by two (2) software developers in the United States, Ron and Bruce back in 2001.  Was a side project that took off and flourished — moving around the world and growing into members or Bookcrossers in over 100 countries.

When you register a book with the website, Bookcrossing(dot)com it assigned a BCID –Bookcrossing ID number.  The idea is you can follow the book from reader to reader, provided that someone writes a “new journal entry.”  This person can be another Bookcrosser or “an anonymous finder” — someone who found the book and does not want to join permanently join the site.  To note, joining is free, but members can pay a small fee for “wings” this membership upgrade, which allows some additional access/features on the website.

Some Bookcrossers are active on the Bookcrossing(dot)com website, posting in the forums, there are book relays and book rings.  Others meet up locally once a month, internationally the meeting is set for 7pm, on the 2nd Tuesday of the month.  There is a convention filled with book related activities held in April hosted by Bookcrossers in different countries and cities, and also smaller and shorter gatherings regularly held, called “Unconventions.”

In 2003, I joined Bookcrossing, and sometime after, attended my first Bookcrossing meeting via Meetup(dot)com.  Eventually became a regular for Boston Book Crossing, attending our Tues. night meetings, and also sometimes we have Saturday meetings as well.  We also usually have a special meeting to attend the Boston Book Festival in October and also for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s free performance on Boston Common.

At Bookcrossing meetings we share and trade books.  More like a literary salon in the sense we talk about books we are reading, books we have read, favorite authors, not so favorite authors, beloved bookstores, and other related or tangent topics.  Sometimes a popular book will make the rounds and we will all discuss it.  There is also a small contingent of Jane Austen fans/Janeites within our Bookcrossing local group — that I’ve sort of encouraged to join and attend JASNA meetings and lectures.

At the end of the meet-up, there are often extra books that no one has selected, aka “orphans.”  We’ll take them/take them back, to distribute in several different ways.  We have an agreement with the hostel in Boston to stock their bookshelf there — it is considered an OBCZ: an Official Book Crossing Zone.  Books are also taken or sent to folks that stock Little Free Libraries which are great for sharing books. Over the years, I’ve sent books via requests to the troops, and to US Veterans mainly through two (2) nonprofits Booksforsoldiers(dot)com and OperationPaperback(dot)org.

And in my office building, our cafeteria has a community bookcase, it’s not an official OBCZ, but I often bring our orphan books there, then swapping them out, take books that have been stranded there for awhile to a Little Free Library nearby — so sometimes feel like I’m moving books around the city, but that is okay, as long as they find a good home.

Letter to Cassandra: Sat. 3-Mon. Jan. 1801- “I am not sacrificing a great deal in quitting the Country.”

Per the notes, this letter follows one that is missing, sent from Jane Austen, is sent from Steventon to her older sister Cassandra, still away at their brother’s estate Godmersham Park in Kent.  Wondering if there is only one letter missing — Mr. Austen has apparently announced his retirement, and plans our being made to leave Steventon and move to Bath: “As you have by this time received my last letter, it is fit that I should begin another; & I begin with the hope, which at present uppermost in my mind, that you wore a white gown in the morning, at the time of all the gay party’s being with you.”

Austen has shifted what she writes about significantly.  Gone from the sister relaying all the latest family, neighborhood news and gossip, and updates on balls Cassandra either missed or attend and needed to provided detailed accounts back to Jane — to focusing mostly on family and household concerns connected to this very large transition in the lives.

Most of this letter concerns what the Austen family members will be doing to move from their home in Steventon to Bath.  Overall, Austen’s tone sounds positive, with pockets of her wicked wit and sometimes even playful. “My Mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do, to our keeping two Maids–my father is the only one not in the secret.–We plan having a steady Cook, & a young giddy Housemaid, with a sedate, middleaged Man, who is to undertake the double office of Husband to the former & sweetheart to the latter.”

Austen seems to be also referring to the loss of a male servant John Bond, and how he will be employed when the Austen family leaves Hampshire, and apparently Cassandra had a better opinion of him and worries than her younger sister: “You feel more for John Bond deserves;–I am sorry to lower his Character, but he is not ashamed to own himself, that he has no doubt at all of getting a good place, & that he had even an offer many years ago from Farmer Paine of taking him into his Service whenever he might quit my fathers.”

Austen lays out the various options of houses, apartments in streets in Bath they are considering noting issues of expense and location, and also the furniture they may or may not be taking with them.  There is also a large discussion of distributing the art work: “Upon all these different situations, You & Edward may confer together, & your opinion of each will be expected with eagerness.  As to our Pictures, the Battlepeice, Mr. Nibbs, Sir William East, & all the old heterogenous, miscellany, manuscript, Scriptoral pieces dispersed over the House are to be given to James.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  To paraphrase the notes, Anna Lefroy recalled that “‘The Battlepeice” was an oil painting of the battle in 1565 between the Swedes and the Poles, which hung in the rectory dining room.  Mr. Nibbs and Sir William were family nicknames given to the figures in the painting, which again cites to Anna Leroy as recalling been stored in cottage of John Bond, the Austen’s former servant in Hampshire and lost when the cottage burned down.

Austen also mentions Martha Lloyd visiting to see Cassandra before they quit the neighborhood, and there is some discussion of scheduling to move everything and everyone from Hampshire to Bath, but I think this is the most telling part of Austen wrestling with this move in her life: “It must not be generally known however that I am not sacrificing a great deal in quitting the Country–or I can expect to inspire no tenderness, no interest in those we leave behind.”

All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.



Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

This book was recommended to me by a couple of Austen-reading/Janeite colleagues at work.  Mentioned it to a friend, and she gifted it me for my birthday. Have to say this modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice (P&P), was not my cup of tea. To be fair, in general think these modern retellings are difficult for all authors to tackle. Austen loving readers and/or Janeites (myself included), tend to be pretty devoted and fierce in their opinions and feelings about Austen’s characters. Tackling Elizabeth Bennet is quite a challenge. So here is the thing: really didn’t care for this particular updated version of Elizabeth Bennet aka “Liz” quite that much.

This narrative does move along quickly. The book is divided into three (3) sections with very short chapters, some as long as just a single paragraph. Ok spoilers follow.

Set in the modern day United States which still retains a class system and material elite, which the author eludes to on many levels — Jane and Liz Bennet have decamped from the family home in the Midwest, Cincinnati, Ohio to New York City. Jane is a yoga instructor, who clock-ticking, has decided to try to have a baby on her own via artificial insemination, etc. Liz is a former magazine fact checker/editor turned feature/writer at a fictional magazine called Mascara which tends to recall the departed magazine, Mademoiselle which was never as highbrow as Vogue and never quite as lowbrow as Cosmo (feel like Cosmo was alluded to but not named in the text must have been the legal dept.), but Mademoiselle had some literary roots and published a lot of high end short stories and employed certain well known authors, including the likes of Sylvia Plath.

Due to the heart attack of their father, the elder Bennet sisters rush home to Ohio. The family home, “the Tudor” aka Longbourn is still the residence of the three (3) younger Bennet sisters Mary, Kitty and Lydia. Mary a recluse, is a perpetual online student, and Kitty and Lydia don’t work but keep themselves busy with a fitness regime Crossfit. To note, they are depicted as rather rudderless individuals of a certain generation, and my favorite lines involve the Liz character asking Lydia for some stationary to write a belated thank you note, and to paraphrase Lydia answering that she has none/what would she thank anyone for, etc. Nice depiction of generation gap lapse of civility here.

The house is in a bad state, as most older houses always need repairs, plus it has been very much neglected and it is a borderline hoarding zone — due to Mrs. Bennet’s addiction to mail order/catalog shopping. Liz soon learns her folks did not have health insurance, so there is a large medical bill for the heart attack care — a wake up call to the mounting financial family crisis.

To note, Liz also becomes the confidant for everyone in her circle certain at times, which bothered me/struck me more in line with Elinor Dashwood of Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility.

Via a backyard cookout, the elder Bennets meet Chip Bingley an eligible doctor and former reality TV show contestant, apparently infamous for his on-air crying spells. Chip and Jane immediately soul mate hit it off — while Liz has a rude meet cute with Chip’s handsome, surgeon friend Darcy (mansplains much later that he was just saving a seat/requested by his host/perhaps he just should have simply said so to her in the first place — but then we would not have had that bad “First Impression” slash P&P tie-in).

Why the two (2) handsome and wealthy docs have set up shop in a small hospital in Cincinnati is a question, that is never properly answered. Thinking the Cleveland Clinic, well know for heart research/procedures would have been a better choice for the setting, but fiction here, suspending reality etc.  Although not really true to Austen’s spirit, who to her own credit and acknowledge, worked in a very small geographic circle. Liz takes lead in trying to reign in the family chaos, she has her father set up a payment plan for the medical bills, takes steps to clean up the house, and retains a real estate agent all on the down-low from her volatile mother and younger sisters. In the mean time, Jane confirms that she is pregnant not via Chip but from previous baby making efforts, but before she can fully disclose to Chip, he finds out/freaks out and duly decamps for a reality TV reunion show.

The Wickham character here is Jasper Wick — a cutie Liz met at that first NYC gig fact-checking and who kept her in the friend zone forever, but they are now in a bizarre relationship, he being still married/in an open marriage arrangement until his wife inherits money. The jig is up though when he visits Cincinnati for an article, and a night of reunion romance goes very south and Liz gets him to admit that he is sleeping with a young chickie, and finally realizes it is time to cut him lose.

Somewhat tangentially during all this — Liz and Darcy start running into each other almost literally, first at local/beloved chili place and then on evening runs/jogs. Personally don’t think what Liz and her friend Charlotte call ST/sexual tension, really materializes. Their relationship, it’s more like a transaction for a hook up that turns into a routine. What Liz deems “hate sex” and I’m using a euphemism here in the paraphrasing — bedroom buddies w/out the buddies. The sex scenes are compact/perfunctory. And okay, this Liz is a modern woman who wants a physical release/outlet which she initiates, which I don’t default especially since she is in rebound mode post Jasper Wick — but seriously Darcy here is the one from the onset, asking for clarification, i.e. they are only/just friends with (physical) benefits?

And the choice for Darcy as a surgeon I do think was smart. Surgeons in my experience don’t tend to be chatty folks — career choice lines up with Austen’s classic Darcy man/of few words.

However, the whole Jasper/Darcy storyline over Jasper’s being booted out of Stanford fell flat for me — don’t think it really added much to the narrative, tension or otherwise. Again I presume, the author is trying to insert issues about racial intolerance here, but felt this wasn’t really skillfully executed and to me it read more contrived or a device that really didn’t weave well into the larger plot. Clearly, Liz already thought Darcy was a hug snob, she told him so — many times and in many ways, even while backpedaling about how she loves OH but lives in NYC, while sleeping with him, and actively pursuing that bedroom buddies relationship, or “hate sex.” While feelings can be intense, and for better or worse, can be turned around — really felt like something was off and/or missing here with these two in this depicted relationship via her actions.

The declaration scene of Darcy happens when Liz is about to leave Cincinnati for Texas for a work interview — after a long shift Darcy shows up at the door, saying he loves her/cannot stop thinking about her, and despite all his reservations, they must admit that are more than just an ongoing hookup. It’s messy but not a good spin of messy. Liz spitefully answers back, Darcy withdraws saying he thought she would appreciate candor, then Liz ruefully mulls it all over as she interviews a feminist icon Katherine deBourgh — a seemingly Gloria Steinham inspired character w/ no relation to Darcy in this version of P&P.

Then Liz is called to California by friend Charlotte who has taken up with the “Collins” of this P&P aka step cousin Willie, a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire, that Mrs. Bennet was trying to match make with Liz to bail out the family debt & failed terribly. Liz goes into supportive friend mode for Char but via her online Nancy Drew, they go to check out the vast Pemberley Estate in Northern California, bumping into Darcy and his sister Georgiana. The Liz/Darcy reunion/working this all out — ensues but goes awry again. Liz returns to NYC and finally hears from Darcy — setting in motion the reunion of Chip and pregnant Jane–which rapid descends into awful “Reality TV Wedding,” that everyone inexplicably signs on for including Darcy.

The Lydia subplot involves her boyfriend/founder of the Crossfit gym being transgender which I felt was sort of a forced crisis and not well executed. Seems the author here is relying heavily on fly over, hard core stereotypes of folks that are narrow and must be coddled and/or pounded into acceptance of dealing with modern cultural differences, etc. It’s true elderly folks do have issues with change but could have been handled/depicted with a little more finesse. Adding on Kitty’s falling for their real estate agent, who is African-American, was two hits of progression to the alluded to bias and established prejudice of this version of Mrs. Bennet and the stoic Mr. Bennet. Darcy though apparently behind the scene, repairs the Lydia rift by giving the Bennets a faux explanation of a “birth defect” which really isn’t all that acceptable, especially for a medical professional. But okay hey again, it’s fiction, although personally don’t think this [plot line] is going to age well. Handling also of the Caroline Bingley v. Liz tension also was stereotypical and awful. Two (2) women lobbing insults at each other, while competing for a guy directly or indirectly, just not something I am a fan of in life or in fiction.

The reality TV show is well depicted as awful as expected — complete with the reality show producers trying to set up/stage a show down/blow out between Caroline and Liz. But Liz is too savvy even when drunk to bite/take the bait. Eventually, Darcy and Liz switch off their microphones, declare their love and clear up all the misunderstandings. There are a few short chapters afterward to wrap everything else up, ending oddly with Mary, teased throughout the book by Lydia and Kitty, as a closet lesbian, which seems to be foggily resolved as her being either bisexual/asexual but clearly a dedicated bowling team member, and I’m not sure why this all was really part of the narrative/ending at all Again sort of like a tempest in a teapot cliche — especially with some of the other story lines that played out.

Disappointed, if ABC/or someone else adapts it/for television or film, hope they will heavily reedit/rework certain plot lines.

Letter to Cassandra from Ibthrop, Sunday 30 Nov. – Mon. 1 Dec. 1800: Dirty roads, shopping in Andover, and gossip spies at Hampshire balls. (Photo Credit/Andover Museum via the Hampshire Cultural Trust.)

Photo credit via The Hampshire Cultural Trust web site, re: The Andover Museum.

This lively letter starts out bursting and wraps with many accounts of news and updates, as Jane Austen writes to her older sister Cassandra, still away in Kent — but here Jane is also away from home as well — visiting their friend Martha Lloyd in Ibthrop in Hampshire. Per the notes, sounds like: “Ibtrop.”

Apparently, the weather was poor: “…because it is too dirty even as such desperate Walkers as Martha  & I to get out of doors, & we are therefore confined to each other’s society from morning till night, with very little variety of Books or Gowns.”  (Austen’s own punctuation.)  Along with this initial report, Austen describes: “You know it is not an uncommon circumstance  in this parish to have the road from Ibthrsp to the Parsonage much dirtier & more impracticable for walking than the road from the Parsonage to Ibthrop–”

Austen adds a quick update on Mrs. Austen’s health filled with her wicked wit: “I left my Mother very well when I came away, & left her with strict orders to continue so.”

Also describes her shopping en route to Ibthrop: “I spent an hour in Andover, of which Messrs Painter & Redding had the larger part;–twenty minutes however fell to the lot of Mrs. Poore & her mother, whom I was glad to see in good looks & spirits.–”  Per the notes, Austen probably made references to having visited Thomas Painter a haberdasher and Grace Redding, a “linen-woolen-draper.”

Continues giving Cassandra a colorful run down of her meeting a Mrs. Poore & her mother and perhaps is joking around and or possibly speculating on a pregnancy: “The latter asked me more questions than I had very well time to answer; the former I believe is very big; but I am no means certain; she is either very big, or not at all big.  I forgot to be accurate in my observation at the time, & tho’ my thoughts are now more about me on the subject, the power of exercising them to any effect is diminished.” (Austen’s own spelling and grammar.)

Her arrival is then described in her own words: “The two youngest boys only were at home; I mounted the highly-extolled Staircase & went into the elegant Drawing room, which I fancy is now Mrs. Harrison’s apartment;–and in short did everything extraodinary Abilities  can be supposed to compass in so short a space of time.–”  (Austen’s own spelling.) Per the notes, this house as pictured above is The Andover Museum in Hampshire, England.

Provides Cassandra a full litany of news concerning Sir Thomas Williams and the Wapshires of Salisbury including all news, rumors, including prospectives regarding the upcoming marriage of Miss Wapshire who is getting up there in marriageable age with some editorial commentary:  “…where Miss Wapshire has been for many years a distinguished beauty.–She is now seven or eight & twenty, & tho’ still handsome less handsome than she has been.–This promises better, than the bloom of seventeen; & in addition to this, they say that she has always been remarkable for the propriety of her behavior, distinguishing her far above the general class of Town Misses, & rendering her of course very unpopular among them.–I hope I have now gained the real truth, & that my letters in future may go on without conveying any farther contradictions of what was last asserted about Sir Thomas Williams & Miss Wapshire.–I wish, I could be certain that her name were Emma; but her being the Eldest daughter leaves that circumstance doubtful.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Per the notes, as Austen is referring to gossip/stories about an eldest daughter aka Miss Wapshire there is no way to convey her Christian and/or first name.  Find it interesting though on the speculation, Austen can sometimes be a little bit of a “mean girl” but she particularly mentions the name Emma here, which has me wondering if she would have given Miss Wapshire the benefit of the doubt if that were truly her first name, because she [Austen] obviously was attracted to the name and would use it for a title character in her novel.  Or is she only regretting she can not confirm more detail in this report to her older sister, or perhaps a combination of a short hand between these two sisters?  Just saying…it is worth a pause to consider.

Continues with Austen returning to their friend Martha, who wants letters from Cassandra, and apparently is in favor of Austen’s recently acquired gown which has garnered mixed reviews among family members via previous letters:  “She is pleased with my Gown, & particularly bids me to say that if you could see me in it for five minutes, she is sure you would be eagar to make up your own.” (Austen’s own emphasis.)

Austen backtracks back to shopping and what she spent, coming clean and telling her older sister of her purchases at the stores, “I have been obliged to mention this, but have not failed to blush the whole time of writing it.–Part of the money & time which I spent at Andover were devoted to the purchase of some figured cambric muslin for a frock for Edward–a circumstance from which I derive two pleasing reflections; it has in the first place opened me a fresh source of self-congratulation on being able to make so munificent a present, & secondly it has been a means of informing me that the very pretty manufacture in question may be bought for 4s. 6d. pr yd — yard & half wide.”  (Austen’s own spelling and abbreviations).  Makes no explanation of who she is buying this fabric to gift to Edward, so presumably Cassandra is aware of it.

This letter flits along to Austen’s return plans and scheduling: “Martha has promised to return with me, & our plan is to [have] a nice black frost for walking to Whitchurch & there throw ourselves into a postchaise, one upon the other, our heads hanging out the door, & our feet at the opposite.”  Which sounds a bit unladylike but fun!

Austen adds another run down of news and updates, plus upcoming balls that follow, with another dose of her wicked wit, “Pray do not forget to go to the Canterbury Ball.  I shall despise you all most insufferably if you do.–By the bye, there will not be any Ball, because Delmar lost so much by the Assemblies last winter that he has protested against opening his rooms this year.”   However, she have missed the advertisement, because, per the Notes: “Delmar…rooms.  The Kentish Gazette of 4 November 1800 announces ‘A Ball at Delmar’s Rooms,’ the first of a series, to be held on 6 November.  The subscription for six balls was a guinea ₤1.05.”

In this letter, Austen continues joking about having a network to report on all local gossip from different balls to her sister: “I have charged my Myrmidons to send me an account of the Basingstoke Ball; I have placed my spies at different places that they may collect the more; & by so doing, by sending Miss Bigg to the Downhill itself, & posting my Mother at Steventon I hope to derive from their various observations a good general idea of the whole.”

For more information about The Andover Museum please visit the website of the Hampshire Cultural Trust — please see below for a link:

All notes to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deidre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.