Tag Archives: Pride and Prejudice

Reading Out LOUD

I’ve just come in from a workshop on reading scripture. We spent more than two hours on practical tips, then rehearsing and performing a particular reading. I was working with a team on a reading of Isaiah 6, the bit where Isaiah sees the Lord. It was a good workshop, lots of interesting points. It made me think about how I preach as well as how I read scripture. When I preach, I preach from a manuscript, so it is essentially a reading. I also got to thinking about some discussions and experiences of reading aloud that I’ve had in the past few weeks.

1. Reading aloud — “It slows me down.” My friend, the priestling, who is in her first year of Seminary, told me that she sometimes reads her textbooks aloud because it slows her reading down. She cannot skip over bits of the text, let her eyes slide over words without really comprehending what the words say. I have never actually read aloud to an audience of just myself. I feel a bit self-conscious doing that. I should probably just get over it. If I’m reading aloud at home there’s no one but me to hear it. It isn’t as if I’d try this on the bus or in a library. At times I need to slow some of my reading down, and experience it with more than one sense. I think I’d like to try this.

2. Listening to someone read — details get picked up. I’ve said before in this blog that I find the experience of listening to an audio book substantially different from reading a book. Last week I listened to Pride and Prejudice and found that listening to a book I’ve read a few times to be an enriching experience. I’ve read P&P many times, and thought I knew the story backwards and forwards. Listening to someone else read it highlighted some details that I have never noticed before. This may be part of that whole slowing the book down process. It was pretty interesting. I think I’ll try some other re-reads as a listen next time through.

I’ve got more to say about reading aloud as performance, and thus preaching as performance, not to mention the hideous habit some people have of speeding up when they read scripture verses as if the Bible were something to be rushed through so we can get to what the person themselves has to say. But I’ll stop for now with these two reflections and ask what you’ve read aloud/been read lately?

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Other People on Old Books

I’ve found a couple of other places where people are talking about reading older books/classics in 2013. Over at the Englewood Review of Books there is an ongoing feature of authors listing their favourite classics (the link is to the most recent one). In the introduction to each of these lists, the ERB points to an article by one of the editors at ERB who gives his definition of a “classic.” As you know, my challenge is to read one older book for every two newer ones, but the ERB challenge suggests a 1:1 ratio and, as I have done, suggests you make your own definition of a classic or older book. I’ve gone with “older than 1970” for my older book selection, and I’m still working on the 1 older for every 2 newer, and I’m exactly on target so far this year.

Over at Book Riot, here is a post on Reading Hard Things. I think it is clear from the post that the author is not talking about Reading Badly Written Things, but Hard Things, things that are difficult and worth fighting through. The problem is, one doesn’t know if it is worth it until one tries. So C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. But trying is important. And ploughing through something that is difficult may produce a new understanding. You may find, as I did after wading through Pride and Prejudice, that you LIKE the book that was difficult, and that re-reading it becomes a pleasure, not a chore.

Speaking of Pride and Prejudice I am enjoying it in audio form at this time. It is a different experience hearing the book. Details stand out differently. Try it out with one of your favourites. I’m sure the library will have a copy in audio form.

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A Fan Letter

Dear Miss Austen,

Allow me to congratulate you on Pride and Prejudice, in print this day for 200 years. I have read almost all of your fine works, and confess that I return most often to Pride and Prejudice, and take solace in the company of the Bennets and their connections. Miss Elizabeth, or as I should call her, Mrs. Darcy, is a friend whose company I enjoy greatly.

I wonder if you know, Miss Austen, that many writers have written books about the Bennets and the Darcys that follow the events you portrayed so admirably in Pride and Prejudice? I do not think that you would approve of all of the efforts of your admiring fans. You might, however, enjoy Death Comes to Pemberley, a murder mystery involving Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and their close connections. The cosy murder mystery is a genre, that, had you known it, you might have enjoyed writing.

I hope that you eventually receive my congratulations, and in some way come to know what an enormous influence you have had upon the imaginations of millions of people.

Allow me to remain your

Dedicated Fan.

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Movies before Books?

Sometimes a movie points me to a book. On the weekend I watched “The Hours” which I quite enjoyed. I know the movie is based on a book (The Hours by Michael Cunningham) which is based on a book (Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf). So many layers. Anyhow, I’ve read neither The Hours, nor Mrs. Dallowaybut now I’m much more likely to read both. I watched “Possession” before even realizing there was a book called Possession by A.S. Byatt, and now I think that is the Best Book Ever. The BBC serial adaptation of Pride and Prejudice helped me re-read the book by Jane Austen which I’d initially thought tedious. That book gets better every time I read it.

Which movies enhance your enjoyment of books or introduced you to books?


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Examples of Atmosphere; or, A Sense of Place

Previously I suggested that it was a particular kind of atmosphere in some books that meant I classified them as a comfort read. Most books that I re-read have a strong sense of place. Pride and Prejudice is overshadowed by Pemberley, whose shades would be polluted by association with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. All the Harry Potter books centre on Hogwarts. But there’s more to it than just that. Somehow the place has to be properly suggested by the author. Here is an example of a scene that gives a sense of place:

“Respect the Pedestrian, say the street signs of Metro Manila. As soon as Randy saw those, he knew he was in trouble.

“For the first couple of weeks he spent in Manila, his work consisted of walking. He walked all over the city carrying a handheld GPS receiver, taking down latitudes and longitudes. He encrypted the data in his hotel room and e-mailed it to Avi. It became part of Epiphyte’s intellectual property. It became equity.

“Now, they had secured some actual office space. Randy walks to it doggedly. He knows that the first time he takes a taxi there, he’ll never walk again.

“RESPECT THE PEDESTRIAN, the signs say, but the drivers, the physical environment, local land use customs, and the very layout of the place conspire to treat the pedestrian with the contempt he so richly deserves. Randy would get more respect if he went to work on a pogo stick with a propellor beanie on his head. Every morning the bellhops ask him if he wants a taxi, and practically lose consciousness when he says no. Every morning the taxi drivers lined up in front of the hotel, leaning against their cars and smoking, shout ‘Taxi? Taxi?’ to him. When he turns them down, they say witty things to each other in Tagalog and roar with laughter.”

That description comes from Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. Randy walks to work — the whole of his walk gives a sense of place. It was hard to choose a particular passage from that book — one thing that Stephenson does well is give a sense of the variety of places there are on the planet. Characters in Cryptonomicon travel a lot, and Stephenson manages to capture well the sense of difference between places.

Do you have particular places that inspire your imagination and prompt you to return to books? Or is it an entire world (Narnia?) that draws you back? Or do you just think I’m a little bit crazy?

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Comfort Reading

I re-read books. I’ve mentioned this before. I re-read books because I like them, and because I find the familiarity somehow comforting. Not all re-reading is for this purpose, as I don’t think all books can be called “comfort reads.” What makes a reading comfortable or comforting? I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question, but I’ll give it a shot.

I just finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I felt a little Potter fix was the thing I needed this weekend. Part of the reason may have been the anti-Rowling article I wrote about last week. I wanted to find out if I still thought that Potter and Rowling were worth defending. Yes, I still think they are worth defending. This was the 9th time I’ve read Philosopher’s Stone — that’s not quite once a year since I first read it in 2001. I also find the Potter books comfortable reading. Rowling tells a good story,  with funny bits and suspenseful bits and also heart-warming bits. Sometimes I’m just in the proper mood for hot chocolate and Harry Potter.

Other comfort authors include Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis (Narnia books), and Dorothy L. Sayers (the Wimsey detective stories). I do re-read other authors but those authors and books I re-read for purposes other than comfort. I think part of the attraction in these books is the setting. I like the setting well enough to lose myself in that world for a while. And I like the characters enough to spend time with them. But I think that all my comfort reads have settings I wouldn’t mind living in. (I’m not looking for a Lost in Austen experience, though.)

What about you? Why do you re-read books? Which books are your comfort reads?

I’m off to jump into Pride and Prejudice. Good times.


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Day Six: Almost Next Year

I’ve started Death Comes to Pemberley. It is lovely. Any of you looking to use up bookshop gift cards (the Constant Reader has some I know) I’d recommend getting this book. I find it true to the spirit of Austen, down to the author’s apology to the Shade of Jane Austen. Good stuff. All this means I cannot make any decisions about the Best Book I Read in 2011 just yet.

In honour of the sixth day of Christmas, here is another song:

All three Godfathers

Happy New Year! (That is to say, happy arbitrary calendar date which we designate as the beginning of a new year.)

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Days/Daze of Christmas: Day One

Previously I noted my dismay that people were counting down the 12 days of Christmas as though they were before Christmas, not after Christmas. Please note that 12th night is the 5th January, that is Epiphany Eve. This means we are now in the 12 days of Christmas-tide. There is some debate about whether the twelfth day of Christmas follows the twelfth night and co-incides with Epiphany, or whether the first day of Christmas is Christmas Day, and thus the 12th day is the 5th January. Because I didn’t post yesterday, I declare that in this blog, this year, we begin the day count today, and days change over at sundown.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, on to the business of the first day of Christmas. For the next twelve days I’m going to include a link to a rendition of a version of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” In order to remind ourselves of the original words, we begin with some puppets and a person singing the lyrics that include “… and a partridge in a pear tree.”

Muppets 12 Days

On the First Day of Christmas I’d also like to note that I got the following books for Christmas:

1. Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader Edited by Katie Geneva Cannon, Emilie M. Townes, and Angela D. Sims. Hot off the press, published this fall by Westminster John Knox Press.

2. The Hunter by Richard Stark, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke. A graphic novel, given to me as an introduction to graphic novels by YoungestBrother (YBro).

3. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Omnipresent on this year’s (Canadian and Commonwealth) book award shortlists. Won the Giller. From RestorationArchitectBrother (RABro).

4. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. Also omnipresent on this year’s (Canadian and Commonwealth) book awards shortlists. Won the Governor General’s (G.G.) Award & Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. From RABro.

5. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. New! Eugenides novel much reviewed and hallooed this fall. From RABro.

Last, but certainly not least, and sure to rise to the top of my pile,

6. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. Wahoo!! P.D. James does Austen fanfic! Can’t wait. Am only waiting as am in the middle of re-reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson and it is really really good. DCTP is next. Also from RABro, but I asked for it.

Pretty good pile. OK, off to eat gingerbread cookies and read.

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Queen of the British Women Mystery Writers: P.D. James

True confession #1: I find that the mysteries of P.D. James are an acquired taste, sort of like Pride and Prejudice. I tried reading her detective fiction while still in high school as lots of people thought I would like it. I didn’t really get into it. Her detective had an unpronounceable name (Adam Dalgliesh) and was a poet. When I was in high school I thought poetry was pretentious hipster writing and thus that all poets were pretentious hipsters. I’ve softened my attitude toward poetry and developed a taste for the careful reading necessary to appreciate P.D. James.

True confession #2: The P.D. James book I’ve read the most isn’t a mystery. It is her excellent work of speculative fiction, The Children of Men. I think so much of this book that I have two copies — one hard cover (for reading at home) and one pocket paperback (for lending out and taking on the road). When I have a chance to teach a children’s ministry course this novel will be on the required reading list. It contains both a vivid picture of a sterile human race and some really interesting theology. I think that contemplating a world without children helps people see the value of children in the church. And really interesting theology presented in narrative form is always worth discussing.

True confession #3: I’ve not yet caught up on reading the P.D. James backlist. I’ve got more to go! This is exciting. I’m also pleased to see that Baroness James is still writing — Austen fanfic! Death Comes to Pemberley is now available. Loads of people had it in their #fridayreads this week. See me happily lining up for a library copy. I may get tired of waiting and just ask for the book for Christmas.

Advice if you are just starting to read P.D. James: realize that her writing is carefully crafted. It isn’t a fast read. I like both her recent work and her earlier work, but found her more recent work slightly more accessible to begin with. I’m now working back into the books written in the 1960s. (Side note: Am still amazed that PDJ has been writing for longer than my lifetime. And she’s still going.) If you don’t get into the books right away, try later. You might have acquired a taste for the Queen of Crime.

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Pride and Prejudice: An Acquired Taste

Now that I’ve listed 25 books I’ve read more than three times, I figure that gives me 25 blog posts right there. I’ll talk about each of the books. Just to keep you guessing, I won’t go in any particular order.

I’m going to start by talking about Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. (Obvious from the title possibly, but just to make sure we are all on the same page.) Let me be clear that I’m talking about the book here. Once, when I mentioned P&P aloud, someone said “Oh, I love Pride and Prejudice!” I asked, “When did you read the book?” “Oh, I haven’t read the book. But the movie is so great!” I mean the book. I read the book before I saw any of the movie versions. I say this not to be a book snob or anything, but because the movies changed how I saw the book, and in fact helped me read the book better.

The first time I read Pride and Prejudice it was tough sledding. I quit, I just couldn’t do it. Then I decided to try again. I can’t remember why, but I remember being quite determined, even in the middle of what seemed the Most Boring Book In The Universe, to get through it this time. Once I was on a streetcar with a colleague from work and he saw what I was reading. “I never finished that,” he said. “I just couldn’t see the point.” I was in one of my I-will-get-through-this-if-it-kills-me moods, or he might have put me off Austen forever. I finally finished P&P for the first time Nov 11, 1994. In my notes on that reading I said that it was “a bit dry at times.” I didn’t mean dry wit. I meant slow. My notes also indicate that I was pleased that I mostly followed the story this time as I’d totally lost the thread in the previous attempt.

After I saw the BBC series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle several times (I taped it from the television on this old-fashioned technology called a VCR), I read the book again. I noticed more things this time because the movie helped me to see the writing differently. I was also reading differently because I was re-reading. I’ve now read P&P six times. I’ve watched the BBC adaptation more than 6 times, and I’ve seen the feature film with Keira Knightly as well. The adaptations are different, but both faithful to the book in interesting ways. Both highlighted things I’d overlooked in previous readings of the book.

In one of my more recent readings of P&P I noted that the book “gets better every time.” I think that this phenomena might be what C.S. Lewis was on about in his Experiment in Criticism. Books that not only hold up under a second reading, but are more enjoyed the more often read, are great literature.

Don’t be discouraged if you find some works that people tell you are Great Literature difficult at first. I have to remind myself of this as I look at the pile of books I want to read but found difficult and so stopped. Difficult at first might mean better second time around. Then even better every time after that.


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