Review: Charlotte Collins, by Jennifer Becton

Charlotte Collins
A Continuation of Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice
, by Jennifer Becton
published independently, 2010 | 256 pp
When Jane Austen was alive, one would not yet have conceived the notion of a spin-off. But since her time, secondary characters have made excellent material for just that, whether it's an alternate perspective of a beloved novel's main events, or a continuation of a novel that follows one of the story's side branches, as we have with today's subject - Jennifer Becton's Charlotte Collins.

For any lover of Pride and Prejudice, this is a delight. Its is constantly pointing in the direction of its inspiration, but it does not suffer for that. It is it's own creature, blossoming from a cutting, as it were, of the original novel - similar, but laying down its own roots - its movement independent of the original.

The story begins some seven years following the events of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins has died (in a manner suiting his folly) and Charlotte must find her independent way in the world. She will not do so alone, however, for her younger sister Maria seizes on this opportunity to make Charlotte her chaperone as she finds her way through society and attempts to secure a husband of her own. In Jennifer Becton's hands, their tiny world of Kent becomes much larger, and Austen's characters blossom into leading players.

For many readers, Charlotte and Maria are thankless supporting characters to the Bennet sisters' plot, so seeing them so fully fledged here brings a kind of comfort. Becton's ancillary characters create a new part of the world that is remarkably detailed and bears the sort of witty appraisals one might expect from Austen's own pen (were it not for some of this author's indulgences in 19th century American exoticism and a slightly more passionate portrayal of emotion in general - both common traits in this brand of writing).  It is a credit to both Austen and Becton that Charlotte and Maria (and Lady Catherine) have a strength of their own and have no need to stray far from there inherent characterization in this newer continuation. They are all very much the same people, but it is the new story that allows us to see them in full form.

Charlotte Collins is a real tribute to Jane Austen, with shades of her other novels - most particularly, I found, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility; but it bears the mark of its home world most of all. I have not found, in my reading of Austen offshoot fiction, a work focusing on a minor character to do so as successfully as Jennifer Becton has managed here. And while I can't recommend this book to someone looking for a fresh or modern Austenesque novel, I think that anyone who loves reading Austen in its original form could give it a go and be the better for it.


Top 10 Bookworm Delights

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Bookworm Delights

Per Jamie at B&B - "These are just some really delightful book related 
experiences in life that can just make me happy on any given day." 

I think any bibliophile could make a longer list, but in the interest of not 
boring everyone else, we'll keep it to 10. 

1. The smell of books - This is a no-brainer. Doesn't everyone love the smell of books? 
Except maybe Fanny Dashwood, of course. There's something very old and homey 
about the smell of a printed page. It's probably got something to do with mold and/or
getting high off of some spore growing in the spine but, you know what? don't know. don't care. 

2. Hunting for used books - Sure, you could spend hours digging through the 
shelves at Strand, or a place like the old Derby Square Bookstore in Salem 
(now closed, I understand...) but there's something to be said for finding that 
out-of-print copy of the book you had as a kid and haven't seen in years on eBay, too. 

3. Seeing what others are reading on the train - I love peeping over the shoulders 
of my fellow commuters to see what they're reading, even if I can't see the titles. And I 
always smile to myself when I see someone reading a book that I already love. 

4. Finding a favorite dog-eared passage - I am a bit of a cur in the book-lover community 
in that I dog-ear like my life depends on it. Bookmarks can fall out, right? So unless I'm 
using a bookmark that's got a good grip, dog-earring makes a lot more sense. I love it when 
I re-shelf a book after moving things around and come across a spot I had left marked for myself. 

5. Getting to the point in a book where I can bend the spine back - Yes, I am truly 
a mutilator of the books I love so dearly. Not only do I fold the pages whenever 
I please, but I also break the spines. I love the convenience of holding a book in 
one hand when I'm commuting, and I love getting to the point in my book where it 
won't destroy the integrity of its construction if I do this. 

6. Reading during a storm - Truth be told, I also love sleeping 
during a storm. But reading is good, too. 

7. Crying during a book - Or, really, having any kind of real emotion while reading. 
To me, that's the sign of a wonderful book. 

8. Organizing my shelves - I have a very precise way that I like things - 
I like keeping the authors I love most together; that's why McEwan, Kerouac, 
Connolly, Bronte and Dumas all share a shelf. Austen would be there but she has her 
own shelf plus another shelf of Austen-inspired books. But then I also have shelves 
that are arranged by genre - my fantasy shelves - which include the likes of 
Barrie, Pearson, Funke, Jacques, Rowling and Martin. I have a non-fiction shelf. 
I have a shelf of plays combined with some of my favorite contemporary fiction. 
And then I have what I call my Europa shelf. There are only nine Europa Editions there, 
but combined with the colorful spines of my NYRB tomes, and sprinkled with my favorites 
that don't fit in with the likes of McEwan and Austen, it makes for a very pretty picture. A book has to really win me over to fit into my limited shelf space, and to make me re-arrange my collection. Which leads me to....

9. Getting someone to take a book off my hands - Because I can't keep all the books (and, in many cases, don't wish to keep them) I want to make sure that they go to good homes. I hate having to see a book I once treasured trapped living a life in my office's lending library. Speaking of a which - I have a bunch of books ready to head to the office if anyone is interested...

10. Their unchanging nature - No matter what happens, a book will always 
conclude in the same fashion. Sure, an author can add a sequel, but that won't change 
your head canon. Yes, other authors can write alternate takes on the same story, but that 
won't change the story itself. George Lucas can try to change the end of your favorite book 
all he wants, but it will still end with "Yub Nub" and Han will always shoot first, because 
you have the written, edited and published truth of the matter. That's an argument for 
paper books over e-books as well, but I feel like that's a fight for another day. 


Collected Book Reviews (4/17 - 4/24/16)

In addition to TLG's review of The Rescuers, be sure to check out more from the critics in this week's collected reviews:

Janna Levin's Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, 
which Maria Popova praises as "first-rate." 

Eligible - Curtis Sittenfeld's "crass and raunchy" millennial-updated Pride and Prejudice

Lisa Hilton (here, L.S. Hilton)'s Maestra which Bethanne Patrick calls "pure pulp madness."

And finally, a review that is from a while back, but which just came to my attention 
thanks to an article about Kirkus being the veritable Statler and Waldorf of 
book reviews (and anything that resembles my spirit muppets must be attended to):

Claudia Gray's Fateful. While I - and the reviewer - acknowledge that 
this book is from the height of paranormal mash-up fiction, even they sound resigned 
when starting the assessment with "It has come to this: werewolves on the Titanic."


Review: The Rescuers, by Margery Sharp

The Rescuers, by Margery Sharp
Illustrated by Garth Williams
NYR Children's Collection, 2011
149 pp
When first published in 1959, Margery Sharp had initially intended The Rescuers for adult readers like her other novels. But ever since its release with illustrations by Garth Williams (Charlotte's Web) it has been increasingly popular with children. Sharp eventually went on to write 8 more books in the series about these mice and their adventures.

At first glance, this book definitely appears to be a children's book; the New York Review Children's Collection edition from 2011 features Williams' illustrations every fifth page or so. But the themes in this book are overarchingly adult. For those familiar with either of the Disney films inspired by Sharp's novels, be assured that we are talking about a very different story here - there is no Madame Medusa or McLeach in sight. Rather, the primary antagonist is much darker - an anonymous government that has imprisoned (for reasons suspiciously unknown) a Norwegian poet in the deepest dungeon of an impenetrable prison ominously named Black Castle. The Prisoners' Aid Society (in the films, the Rescue Aid Society) is much the same but, as the name might indicate, has a focus on the incarcerated.

The constant presence of emotionally hopeless poetry throughout the book is probably a bit much for kids. Miss Bianca's torn feelings of whether to continue her life as a pampered pet or resolve to teach drawing to bring in money as the wife of a pantry mouse are positively mature. And the invisible and oppressing government (physically embodied only briefly by a literal fat cat) is a bit abstract for younger readers. But this miniature fantasy is charming, full of bravery and heart - and even a bit of grown-up reality.

I now find myself facing a curious perspective: Yes, more often than not, the book is better than the film - you'll hear that all the time from professional and amateur critics alike. Even though I have a deep and unflinching love of both films (yes, both) and I still cannot help but have that feeling. Sure, the stories are quite different, but Sharp's witticisms and daring characters now seem to exist beyond the page in name only: here, Bernard is braver, Bianca is humbler, the situation seems fraught with more danger than even the films can portray, and the sweet, neat, comfortably-tied-up endings are nowhere to be found.


Top 10 Books That Will Make You Laugh (or at least chuckle)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh (or at least chuckle)

I'm actually not really into "funny" books - at least not in the "laughing haha funny" sense. I have exactly three books for this list, so I've called for reinforcements.

My mother said Dave Barry. But Dave Barry is already on my list! Particularly Dave Barry Slept Here, I'll Mature When I'm Dead, and the Starcatchers series which he wrote with Ridley Pearson.

Jessica (a sometimes-contributor to TLG) said The Diviners...or maybe the second Diviners. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I looked it up. These are novels by Libba Bray (whose name, I have to assume, is the result of someone drunkenly attempting to spell "Library") and upon looking at them once, I can't tell that they're meant to be funny. But they definitely gave Jess a chuckle.

My friend Phil brought up Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) I've never read any of her stuff, but my sister and my roommate both love her as well.

Elisa said David Sedaris. I believe her, but I've managed to stay away from David Sedaris for all this time, I can't say I'm willing to pick him up now. Elisa also brought up Tina Fey which, well, we all know how I love her. Bossypants is a gem of a book.

The one that no one else has mentioned (but I will!) is Isaac Oliver's Intimacy Idiot. If you haven't picked it up yet, you need to do so. But maybe not in front of the kids. Unless you're a cool parent like that or something. But no, really, maybe not in front of the kids.


Collected Book Reviews (4/10 - 4/17/16)

In addition to TLG's review of Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms, be sure to check out more from the critics in this week's collected reviews:

Samantha Mabry's debut novel A Fierce and Subtle Poison, which Caitlyn Paxson calls "impressive."

Bucky F*cking Dent, by David Duchovny (yes, that David Duchovny) which is a "home run" according to Jeff Ayers. 

Ian McGuire's The North Water which, if Colm Toibin is to be believed, is apparently a modern work of naturalistic genius. He describes it as a "riveting and darkly brilliant [novel that] feels like the result of an encounter between Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy." 


Review: Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms - The Story of the Animals and Plants that Time has Left Behind, by Richard Fortey

I have to begin by saying that reading this book was intensely selfish of me. Being a purely left-brained selection (non-fiction AND science!), I can't imagine that many people who read this post are going to have the same desire to pick up this book as I did, simply upon hearing the title or seeing the Ernst Haeckel drawings on the cover. It's a very niche selection, to be sure. And, actually, while we're here - Thom, if you're reading this (Thom is my roommate), you can stop now. Turn around, bright eyes, this is not a book that you would enjoy. Many fish.

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms
The Story of the Animals and Plants
That Time Has Left Behind
by Richard Fortey
Vintage Books | 2012 | 332 pp.
That being said, reading Richard Fortey's Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms  turned out to be far more enjoyable than even I had anticipated. Maybe endless talk of angiosperms and blue-blooded horseshoe crabs isn't your thing, but if you're going to take a lesson on the subject, I strongly encourage you to pick up any of the prolific Richard Fortey's books. Not only will you find it an extremely rich source of information, but you may even have a good time doing so.

Fortey - a paleontologist, among other things - brings an easy, pleasant sort of grandfather-scholar approach to dissecting Earth's biological tree, all the way from bacterium to humanoids; he presents history in an unfolding matter-of-fact fashion while also managing to be incredibly personable. There are a lot of scientific names and, if you either never took Latin or you sleepily skimmed through all of your biology lessons, you might think you'd find yourself in some Cretaceous weeds, but Fortey never leaves the reader without a thorough explanation.

He is, at every turn, rich in his poetic imagery, and he presents every gnarled branch in our history with an amicable humor that might make science fun even for someone less inclined to find it so. As with any effective book on the natural sciences, there are also reference pages at both ends of the book. And Fortey has arranged the chapters in such a way that you feel - all the way to the epilogue - as if you have been on this journey with the author across continents, through fields and rainforests, and deep into the past.

One cannot help but appreciate the aesthetically pleasing nature of passages like this:
Compared with human history, the seas are eternal, and the medusae pulse on and on, like an unstoppable heartbeat.
 Nor could one lack appreciation for the author's frank observation of the attractions of being Norwegian. Nor ignore this stinging assessment:
To give one example, the curious and venomous platypus claw always seemed to have more to do with reptiles than mammals (who, with the exception of critics, entirely lack venom).
 I know what you're thinking..."wait, platypodes (yes, that's the plural) are VENOMOUS?"

See? This proves my point about Fortey's intellectual appeal: you haven't even picked up this book and already you've learned something new.


Top 10 Books that Every New Yorker Should Read

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Books that Every New Yorker Should Read

New York has a very long history, and there are thousands of books to choose from on this subject, so this is a small sampling. You've likely already read a few of them, but others may be a little off the beaten path for most.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Gods of Gotham, by Lindsay Faye

Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park

Forever by Pete Hamill

Jacob Riis' collected photography in How the Other Half Lives

Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger (I shan't be including The Catcher in the Rye because, frankly, it's a terrible book).

Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow

And Tango Makes Three (because it's just the best)

Being There by Jerzy Kosinski

There are still, of course, other necessary New York-set books that I have yet to read myself (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Godfather, American Psycho, etc.) but this is a good start. I'm always looking for recommendations - drop me a line if you have any to suggest!


Collected Book Reviews (4/3 - 4/10/16)

In addition to TLG's review of The Blue Line, be sure to check out more from the critics in this week's collected reviews:

Stephen O'Connor's Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemmings in which, Jean Zimmerman reports, Sally "comes thoroughly and thrillingly alive."

John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit by James Traub; Joseph Ellis tells us that "Traub devotes more space to Louisa Catherine than any previous Adams biographer, in part because she is so omnipresent in [Quincy's] journal." (This is an exciting piece of information, and my birthday is coming...)

Nina George's The Little Paris Bookshop, now out in paperback. I am extremely empathetic to Drew Gallagher's approach to this review, and leaves me intrigued - I may need to pick this one up. 

The Madwoman Upstairs, a novel by Catherine Lowell in which the author "uses an intermingling of the Brontë novels and their authors, myth and fact, to create a compelling and enjoyable literary mystery and more" according to Lawrence Wayne Markert. (I'll remind y'all again...my birthday is coming.)


Review: The Blue Line, a novel by Ingrid Betancourt

In 2008, Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt made headlines when she and fourteen other hostages were rescued after being held by a guerrilla army in the Colombian jungle for over six years. Betancourt detailed her account of those events previously in her 2010 memoir Even Silence Has An End. But in her debut novel of the fictional persuasion she has undertaken the task of telling the story of Argentina's "Dirty War" - a period left out of most classroom history lessons - through the lens of her experience.

The Blue Line:  A Novel
by Ingrid Betancourt
Penguin Press | 2016 | 368 pp.
This "war," which Argentinians call the time of "state terrorism genocide" is a blight in the nation's history. Covering the early 1970s through the early 80s, it was a period of uncertainty and terrible truths in the wake of Peron's return from exile, and the subsequent succession of his widow Isabel to the presidency following Peron's death. Marxists and socialists - many of them students - were hunted down and tortured; members of their support networks were assassinated in the streets. And between 10- and 30,000 citizens became "desaparecidos" - the disappeared. Some of them - their bodies would wash ashore in Uruguay after being thrown from a plane. Some of them were tortured and then disposed of into mass graves, and wait even now to be identified. Still others will never be found.

In The Blue Line Betancourt merges her own experiences with this history, and creates a character - Julia - who embodies her own personal strength, but who also carries a secret that allows her (and the reader) to foresee the horrible suffering to come as the story unfolds. Julia has inherited her grandmother's gift - visions of the future through the eyes of an unknown source who calls, in one way or another, for help in their future moment. As a child, Julia saves her sister from drowning by teaching her to swim before the disaster she has foreseen can occur. As an adult, she has to confront a vision of her own future - which Mama Fina describes - in order to save another life, only to find herself being broken many more times by the death squadron that ruled Buenos Aires.

The magical aspect of the story takes a backseat to the horrors of the reality that Julia lives, but her character is stronger for it. What might in another novel be a distraction proves, in this one, to be a comfort - a way by which the reader can prepare themselves for each next step of Julia's perpetually angst-and-anxiety-ridden life. The story, if a shade unbelievable, is harrowing in its brutal descriptions of the horrors of a very real history. Julia, Mama Fina and Theo may not be as factual as that history, but Betancourt brings them to life with a deft vibrancy - an effect, I believe, of an empathy that most of us will thankfully never understand.


Top 10 Bookish People You Should Follow on Social Media

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Bookish People You Should Follow on Social Media (...besides me - links are on the left!)

Be sure to check these out on Twitter (think of this like a Follow Friday...on a Tuesday...or something):

1. Antoinette - @BlackAndBookish

2. Laurel Ann - @AustenProse

3. The Booksmith - @Booksmith

4. Giselle - @BookNerdCanada

5. Peter - @DoctorSyntax

6. Stephen King - @StephenKing

7. Candice - @BooksBaconGlttr

8. Jessa - @TheBookSlut

9. John Patrick Shanley - @JohnJPShanley

10. Stefan - @Stefan_Bachmann

And if you're not on Twitter, let me know what kind of social media you're into and I'll try to make some recommendations. I'd also love to know whom everyone else is following!