Book Review of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Set around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, but making little reference to it, Austen's Pride and Prejudice, as most people know, follows the romance of snooty, unapproachable Darcy and high spirited, generous Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy is proud and Elizabeth is (in my opinion rightly so) prejudiced. Of course, we all know that ultimately Elizabeth and Darcy get it together after Darcy shows his principles and kindness helping Elizabeth's wild and inexperienced sister Lydia form a reasonably satsifactory marriage with Wickham. Wickham a handsome and charming soldier initially makes a favourable impression on Elizabeth, but significantly is a cad who had already disrupted Darcy's own sister's lives.
Austen is in a class of her own for weaving intricate plot beautifully together and portraying character. For example, we love Elizabeth's dad, but we don't really respect him. We agree that Bingley (Darcy's friend) and Elizabeth's sister, Jane will get robbed blind by their staff, as they are just too kind. It is this kind of detail and witty insight that makes her so brilliant. We are appalled by the manners of Mrs Bennet, but delighted by her rudeness. We are astonished by the skill and mastery that Austen applies in writing satire and irony.
Humour and wit abound in Jane Austen's writing and especially in Pride and Prejudice. In my opinion, her understanding of social class and restrictions on women (and men too) is second to none. Direct yet playful; searing yet light; funny yet profound - Pride and Prejudice is a book you will wish to return to time and time again.
Book Discussion Questions on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Which male character in the book do you have most sympathy for and why?
Is Mr Bennet a good father? Why or why not?
In Pride and Prejudice which sister is most like you? Why?
How much sympathy do you have for Lydia and the choices she made?
Are you likely to fall for a 'cad' like Mr Wickham?
Why do you think Pride and Prejudice has been such a popular book for over two hundred years?
There have been lots of movie adaptations and series made of Pride and Prejudice. Who would you cast as the main characters?
Whose marriage will be more successful - Jane and Bingleys or Elizabeth and Darcy's?
How much sympathy do you have for Charlotte Lucas? Was she wise to marry Mr Collins?
Mr Collins is probably the most insufferable character in Pride and Prejudice? Is there anyone who he reminds you of him that you are happy to chat about?
What is the funniest line in the whole book?
The opening line of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most quoted in literature. What other stand out 'first lines' can you think of?
What is the quality that you most admire in Jane Austen's writing?
At the minute books like Jonathan Coe's Middle England are doing the rounds. They are in stark contrast to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as they specifically make reference to current culture and politics. Do you prefer Austen's seemingly timeless writing or would you have welcomed the inclusion of more specific context in Pride and Prejudice?
Bookclub Questions on Pride and Prejudice (If you haven't read the book!)
The letter that Darcy sends Elizabeth angers her hugely. Have you ever received a letter from someone you hated who you then went on to become romantically involved with? If so would you like to share your story?
Darcy is initially judgemental and snobbish, yet ultimately Elizabeth sees his good qualities and falls in love with him. He claims to retain his principles but manages them better with more self-awareness. Do you think we really can change as adults or do we always revert to our young selves?
Elizabeth is from quite a large family of girls, all requiring a husband in order to have financial security. Would you marry for money rather than love?
Elizabeth can dance and play the piano tolerably well, but is probably too lazy to become really skilled at either. Do you share these traits. Is being 'B' grade in life enough?
Pride and Prejudice is set a time of historical signficance yet is almost completely consumed by local and domestic affairs? Does what is happening in the world affect your view of the world, or are you more like the characters in this novel and consumed with your domestic circumstances? Does this matter?
Look around the bookclub. Who is more prone to be proud and who is more likely to be prejudiced? Keep your banter light hearted and don't quarrel!
Summing Up of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The numerous adaptations of Pride and Prejudice make it a well known story and bookub members spend hours drinking wine and discussing which actor playing Darcy they prefer! Lucy Worsley has recently written an insightful account of Austen and her life called Jane Austen at Home. It is well written and a fascinating read if you are interested in knowing biographical information and more about the context of her writing. There are also numerous societies devoted to the study of Jane Austen and plenty of amusing teen and adult spin-off novels too.
If you have never read a Jane Austen book start with this one and there is a good chance that you will become hooked on her writing.
Book Review of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
American Dirt begins by describing a shoot out at a barbeque where a woman's entire family, other than her son, are murdered by a cartel. Sixteen people are killed. The opening is tense, frightening and focuses on the emotions of a young boy and his mum hiding in the shower and thus avoiding murder.
Next we are given some of the context about why this particular family has been targeted. Lydia, the protagonist, is a bookstore owner. Her husband, Sebastian is a journalist about to expose a cartel leader, Javier Crespo. This has dramatic and tragic consequences. The twist comes in the fact that Javier is bookish. He is a frequent visitor to Lydia's bookstore and the two have become good friends. The stereotype of cartel leaders is challenged. Lydia has viewed Javier as gentle and smart, yet Javier is to blame for countless murders, including sixteen members of her own family. Fearing for their lives Lydia and her son Luca have to go 'on the run' to escape the horror and stay alive.
And thus the scene is set.
The context is set quickly and the remainder of the story explores the hardships and dangers of travelling as illegal immigrants. As Lydia and Luca travel, largely illegally on freight trains, they befriend two sisters who have had to flee. Their beauty puts them in constant risk of rape and thus the writer exposes the often, unmentioned, crimes that immigrants trying to reach America endure. As we meet a range of characters from different backgrounds we are constantly shown that no one would take this journey unless they were desperate. We see first hand the ridiculous reasons why some travellers have been deported and it is impossible not to feel immense sympathy for them.
Through the unusual combination of insightful character portrayal, alongside a tense fast-moving plot that is full of suspense the reader is hooked and cares massively what happens. Consequently, by writing American Dirt Jeanine Cummins is able to reach a massive audience in order to share a highly political message.
Book Discussion Questions on American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
In American Dirt it seems that Lydia's only focus is to save Luca and stay alive. A reference is made to Lydia's suffering, but it isn't dwelled on. In effect she has to put her immense grief on hold. How successfully does Jeanine Cummins create smpathy and empathy for the suffering that the key characters endure?
What emotions did you feel once you completed the whole book? Why?
Should Sebastian have written the article on Javier Crespo? Why or why not?
Do you think Sebastian and Lydia had a strong marriage?
Although fiction rather than memoir, thousands upon thousands of people take a similar journey to that of Lydia and Luca. What did you learn about from reading American Dirt?
Is El Chacal a hero or a villain?
If you are an American reader how do you expect readers from the rest of the world to respond to this book?
El Chacal allowed Soledad to murder Lorenzo. Why did he do this? Do you think he made the 'right decision?
What sympathy, if any, do you have for Javier?
What would you ask Jeanine Cumming if she was here with you at this book discussion?
Did you think the ending of American Dirt was satisfactory?
Writers are frequently told to 'show not tell' as a means of presenting their message. Cummins, I think, does this very effectively. Do you agree? Discuss the parts of the story which you found the most moving and powerful.
Marisol has been deported from America and is desperate to return to her daughters. She is under no illusions about her own bravery or heroism yet arguably is a hero. Discuss.
What do you think will happen to Lydia and Luca once they reach North America?
What do you think Donald Trump would say about this book?
If America Dirt was a film who would you cast in the main roles?
Bookclub Questions for American Dirt (if you haven't read the book!)
Lydia will do anything to protect her son? Would you give up your life for someone else?
Do you consider yourself a brave person?
Lydia compartmentalizes her life and sets her grief aside as a survival strategy? Are you able to compartmentalize different emotions?
Discuss the complexities regarding immigration.
Share what you know about cartels.
American Dirt is clearly relevant in today's world. (In this respect (only) it is similar to Middle England by Jonathan Coe) Discuss whether you enjoy reading books that explore real and contempary suffering.Why or why not?
When reading a work of fiction do you find it helpful to know what inspired the author to write it?
Summary of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is an excellent story which will keep you gripped from beginning to end. If you are fortunate enough to read Jeanine Cummins' accompanying essay and to see the level of research she completed and her personal reasons for writing the story, it becomes even more powerful.
Jeanine Cummins' comments in her essay about the book that she felt inadquate to tell the story of the migrants, but she does it brilliantly. I can imagine that sometime soon American Dirt will be made into a very successful film.
What Does Cool Mean?
One of the dangers of having time on our hands is over thinking things. This week I was invited by a friend to join in with one of those facebook challenges that are going round where you are asked to show your top ten album covers. My choices are very cheesy and a part of me didn’t want to take part. I would be exposed as a very ‘uncool’ music lover. Another part of me though, almost wanted to exaggerate the ‘cheesy’ aspect and present it as my own kind of ‘coolness’. It got me thinking about what it is to be cool and why it either matters or doesn’t matter to be cool.
How to be Cool
The very word ‘cool’ of course, is no longer even ‘on trend’ or ‘cool’. It would be, of course, ridiculously ‘uncool’ for me to use ‘cool’ replacements, such as ‘sic’. (It isn’t cool to try to be a teenager at 51!) When I was teaching, the term ‘cool’ was used to categorize a particular group of students. Rather like there were the ‘jocks’ and the ‘nerds’, there was ‘the cool kids’. My understanding is that this was the group that the majority aspired to be one of. I think the cool kids were trendy, were a little bit rebellious and most importantly were popular. Being ‘popular’ made them cool, and being ‘cool’ made them ‘popular’. It seemed image was a large part of being both cool and popular and how you presented yourself mattered. As such, it was a fairly shallow measure, but whilst it lacked depth and substance it was largely aspired to.
So that takes me to the question of whether being cool is a pathway to being accepted in a particular cohort? Or perhaps it can be used as a wider term for being generally accepted into those parts of society you desire to be in. We might want to be cool to be accepted, even if it goes against the behavioural, social and cultural values we have. If so then isn’t desiring to be cool a bit pitiable, as surely being strong enough to stand out from the crowd is a more worthy quality than being cool. Maybe part of our brain views ‘being cool’ as negative. It is like smoking or drinking alcohol, we might want it, but we know it is bad for us. Maybe it is just the ‘wannabes that have to try to be cool; the really cool people just somehow are! If that was the case though, then why would so many ‘allegedly cool’ people end up with tremendous mental health issues. Maybe aspiring to coolness is hugely detrimental to our mental health.
It seems that being cool is as ‘long as a piece of string’ and as ‘changeable as the wind’ and we need to decide whether to follow trends or buck them. Particularly for young people this can be hard as we are still figuring out who we are. What is popular and cool one week is naff and out of date the next. For example, when I had a ten and an eleven year old it was very cool to love One Direction, until suddenly it wasn’t. If there is one thing that is constant about being cool is that what is cool isn’t constant.
Before I started this post I asked my own kids if I should write about being cool and they said it was too big a topic; I'd never figure out what i wanted to say and I'd end up rambling. They were right, I am not getting anywhere fast. When living in the moment to really strive for coolness there is a need to be prepared to change to fit in. Historical perspective and ‘age’ changes this perspective and we can explore coolness as a tool to reflect on who we have become and what our influences were.
What's Cooler than Being Cool?
It is possibly true to say that ‘coolness’ matters more when we are young and we are less self-assured. As my hesitancy over sharing my uncool music shows, perhaps it doesn’t ever completely go away. What is actually cool is to not give a stuff about ‘what is cool’, however, whilst we co-exist with others, this isn’t ever going to completely happen. It links to an awareness of a desire to be accepted, juxtaposed against what we are prepared to do in order for that acceptance. It's tied up with our very sense of self worth.
Being cool links to a shared understanding of values that ascertain popularity, acceptance and status. They are defined within groups in a particular place and time in history. With this shared history it is possible to explore ‘being cool’ together. Exploring what was ‘cool’ is fun and doesn’t need to get ‘heavy’. As I say, I over think things.. Maybe I’m harbouring a secret wish that exploring ‘coolness’ in this way, is indeed just a little bit cool in itself! Is my music ever going to be cool though? I doubt it.
The Board Game Algorithm
Yesterday I called a family meeting. The girls looked anxious! As a rule family meetings are reserved for fairly serious discussions and announcements, but this was just a quick 'check in' about how we are coping with having had living together (and apart from Mick) forced upon us. The good news is we are doing pretty well and I am still enjyoing being my reprieve from being an empty-nester. The housekeeping jobs are being shared out, we are making a little 'me' time and we are pretty good humoured for most of the day. One of the suggestions that Betsy made was that maybe we could play a few board games to pass the time during the evenings. Not a bad idea at all! We all agreed that playing board games as a family is a fun thing to do. I immediately thought it would be fun to play Scrabble, Annie quite fancied Monopoly and Betsy thought Charades might be fun (not strictly a board game, but still a good idea).
This got me thinking about what I'm going to call 'The Board Game Algorithm'. I've decided that the type of board game someone enjoyed playing as a child, not only reveals a lot about their personality, but can provide a sneak peek into the type of career they will eventually have. For those youngsters not yet working I guess it can work as something approaching a quiz for choosing a career. It may also, as a family, enable a deeper understanding as to why playing board games can lead to a little confrontation!
Which is the Best Board Game Ever?
Choose which is the best board game ever and learn about what your own favourite reveals about you. Finally, reflect on whether it influenced your career path!
Monopoly - If Monopoly is a favourite board game then you probably don't shy away from confrontation and refuse to give up on your goals. You are a risk-taker and even when you find yourself in a dire situation you will still expect people to believe and put their blind trust in you. Your own confidence, occasionally bordering on arrogance, means that you underestimate others and expect them to follow your lead and sing to your tune. As a leader you are more Trump than Obama. You are likely to be successful in life, probably as a banker or perhaps you might work in the city. It is possible you have been bankrupt more than once and made big mistakes in life, (you have been known to 'spit-the-dummy'). but you always bounce back.
Pictionary - If you enjoy Pictionary then you think outside of the box and see solutions where others simply see brick walls. You are likely to be an architect and have probably won awards for 'the best use of small spaces' or 'most original design'. If you are an artist, you are more Picasso than Rembrandt. Your main weakness is that you are quite impatient and have been reprimanded in meetings for becoming overly jealous in expressing your viewpoint. Patience isn't a strong point and if others don't accept your ideas immediately you are quick to apportion blame and accuse them of lacking vision. Your special skills are finger-wagging and pointing.
Scrabble - If Scrabble is your favourite board game then you probably won't read this as it won't be high-brown enough for you. Let's face it you are a little bit of a snob and status matters to you in your chosen sphere of employment. This is likely to be in the world of Arts and Culture where you will put a vaguely glamorous spin on whatever role you have. For example should you find yourself as a Saturday girl working in The Tate Souvenier shop then you will probably tell others that you are finding your inner artist with the likes of Liu Wei and Takashi Murakami as you spend the day selling postcards featuring their art. You will be a heart breaker as you woo and charm partners with poetic love letters and you will be lucky in love. Should you fail to score over 300 on too many consecutive games of Scrabble, you are likely to get your comeuppance and spend years teaching in a Secondary school, trying to convince resistant teenagers that reading is the cure to all their woes.
Buckaroo - If Buckaroo is your childhood favourite game then you probably attended and got thrown out of gymanstic class for innappropriate use of the hobby-horse. As an adult you are likely to be over qualified and could choose from careers as diverse as barrister to barista.. Despite this, the truth is that it is unlikely that you will easily settle into a particular career path as you are a flibbity gibbet. As soon as everything is in place for a settled existence, you are likely to become restless, up sticks and seek a new adventure. Despite being very intelligent your finances are likely to be precarious and you would break out in hives at anthing as dull as paying into a regular pension scheme. If you are lucky someone who enjoyed playing Operation as a child will fall in love with you and keep you safe and secure.
Trivial Pursuit - Not to be rude but if you enjoy Trival Pursit (and you've not the excuse that you've been drinking) then yoy may be a know-it-all who is not shy to share your opinion. As such you are likely to seek a career as a political commentator, journalist or perhaps a job in the Civil Service. In fact, was it you who I saw on the Andrew Marr show last week? Whilst there is no doubting your all round intelligence it is possible to spot an occasional chink in your armour. On occasion your absolute lack of knowledge about popular culture can cause you embarrassment. At this time your cheeks tend to go bright pink!
Operation - The strange thing about you lovers of playing Operation, is that strangers tend to trust you implicitly. They view you as calm, steadfast and reliable. In fact, I've overheard people in the pub say that they would literally trust you with their life. Family and close friends tend to view you differently and know that the shaking of your hands is due to your tendency to drink a few too many gin and tonics on a Saturday night. Some of you will work in the medical profession, perhaps as doctors or anethetists. Others of you will become Counsellors and gain a full knowledge of the workings of the brain. The remainder will take the fairly uncoventional path of training as masseuses capable of curing many aches, pains and illnesses simply through a good foot massage. For some reason, that hasn't yet been determined, a large number of Fashion Designers from the 1980s used to play Operation as a child.
Cluedo - Expected career paths for Cluedo lovers are detectives, barristers and politicians. You can spin a tale, provide evidence where there is none and send people down (both metaphorically and literally) with little more than a candlestick to light your way. Cluedo lovers can surprise you as many are also fantasists and like nothing more than to dress up and play a role. The need to show off is never far from the surface and many Cludeo lovers will have completed some kind of formal acting training or be keen players in the world of amateur dramatics. Cluedo lovers are known for being gossips; they have a foot in many doors and seem to be always searching out the action. They are pillars of the community, but beware as they harbour many secrets!
BattleShips - You don't want to get on the wrong side of BattleShips players as they harbour grudges. It may not be today, or even next week, but eventually you will pay the price for having wronged a 'Battler'. Their revenge is not impromptu but pre-meditated and ruthless. You might think that the prisons would be full of Battlers, but they don't get caught. Whilst not prone to sentimental displays of affection. many 'Battlers' actually have warm tender hearts. They are likely to be strategists with solid careers in Computing and Software design. Should you marry a 'Battler' you need never worry about your long term financial security and be assured that your taxes will always be completed.
Would I Lie to You - Would I Lie to You is a relatively new board game so there hasn't been much data collected on its players. Early signs do suggest, that fans of the game frequently find themselves 'on the wrong side' of the law. The worst of these crooks show themselves as scammers who would rob their own mothers. You will often hear Would I Lie to You lovers either on the landline telephone trying trick innocent people into sharing their bank account details. Would I Lie to You Lovers are known for rejecting the 'middle ground' in all aspects of life. They are likely to have either attended fancy private schools, like Eton, or not gone to school at all. Politcians are given an allowance to buy the Would I Lie to You game, when they first become MS, for training purposes. In fact, Jeffery Archer has recently endorsed this board game as a great past-time activity when in lockdown or when locked up.
Testing the Board Games Algorithm
Although I am an avid believer in the scientific accuracy of my 'Board Game Algorithm' (just joking!) I have to hold my hands up the fact that it hasn't been widely tested! Perhaps you can let me know if my 'board game algorithm' (which predicts your likely career path to match your board games preferences) has proven true for you? For any younger readers why not play a few board games to see what your future career path might be? At the very least, you'll find some fun games to play when you are bored and be able to decide what you think is the best board game ever.
Book Review of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Where the Crawdads Sing has received mixed reviews, yet it has sold 4 million copies! Reviewers have criticised it for reading like young adult fiction and lacking sophisticiation. It has been slated because a court room drama cannot sit side-by-side with a rich atmospheric account of living in the North Carolina marshes, writers have said that the tropes used are too obvious and the symbolism flawed. I didn't overly notice any of these alleged faults and thought it was an excellent read from beginning to end.
Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Kya, who was forced into social isolation from the age of six after her whole family, one by one, left her. The final member to leave was her abusive father. Surviving almost entirely by herself, aided only by the occasional kindness of strangers and the steadfast kindness of black neighbour Jumini and his wife, she learns to hunt and cook in order to literally survive.
Where the Crawdads Sing is a tale of immense loneliness. Kya is ostracized and shunned by most of her neighbours. Known as the 'marsh girl' she is different to her neighbours, having a deep affinity with nature. It is the gulls she turns to in times of tremendous sorrow and grief. Kya is highly intelligent and to move the plot forward needs to read. Stage entrance, Tate, a local boy who for a while becomes her tutor, before he too leaves her.
Kya uses her knowledge of nature to understand relationships and clings to the false hope that all mothers eventually come back. She also attempts to understand her ill-fated relationship with village hearthrob Chaser through comparisons to nature. Eventually accused and acquitted of the murder of Chase, who 'fell' to his death through an open Fire Tower trap door we feel that Kya can finally find some peace in her life. A good murder mystery wouldn't be satisfactory without a few twists and turns and that isn''t quite the end of the story of Where the Crawdads Sing.
Book Discussion Questions on Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Bookclub Questions for Where the Crawdads Sing (if you haven't read the book!)
Summary of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Four million copies of Delia Owen's Where the Crawdads Sing have been sold. Owen's novel is constantly towards the top of the New York Times' Best Seller List; she has been featured by Oprah and it is a Richard and Judy book club choice, yet until a couple of days ago I hadn't even heard of it! As for reading about the potential murder investigation that would occur in Zambia should Owen's ex-husband ever return there, well I'll leave that for the salacious minded to find out about! For now, though I would definitely recommend that you join four million others and read Where the Crawdads Sing. A completely differnt style of book, but I wouldn't be surprised in the next year or two it finds itself on various prize winning lists. I guess, of books I've recently read, it is most similiar to Tara Westover's Educated, though of course that is an actual memoir rather than fiction.