Books #8 and #9

Book #8  ~~ Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen ~~ While reading an old copy of Persuasion, I came to the sad conclusion that I needed to begin upgrading, or rather upsizing, my Jane Austen collection. The Penguin paperbacks I bought in 1982 are not only browning and crumbling; the print is far too small for me to read comfortably. I want to sing the praises of the Vintage paperback editions, which are not outrageously expensive and have the kindest typeset of the various paperback versions of Austen available at the Borders nearby. I’ve linked to them in the sidebar.

In the comments here on Persuasion, Kathryn made a reference to Mansfield Park’s retiring heroine, Fanny Price, and I realized it had been many years since I read the book. I know it was in this house, but I believe it may have been as long ago as the summer of 1998, when I first lived here. I remember reading it in my bedroom here; funny how books have their sense memories, too. I remember feeling it was a very important story for me, and that I loved Fanny, so Kathryn’s characterization of Fanny as a "drip" surprised me. Did I remember her that way? The only Fanny in my shorter-term consciousness was the movie Fanny, who was far too confident and I think intended to remind us of Miss Austen herself. More recently I’ve read somewhere that Miss Austen claimed to be herself more like the far less drippy Mary Crawford. With all this in mind, I took up my fresh copy of Mansfield Park (the longest Austen novel) and began.

Fanny, I discovered, is exactly what my mother tried to raise me to be: a quiet young lady who takes her lead, morally and intellectually, from the influential gentleman in her life.


Well, there you have it. I am a changed person. I no longer identify with Fanny. I’m sorry she didn’t get to enjoy that bad boy Henry Crawford and break out a bit. But that sort of bodice-ripping is for film adaptations, not Miss Austen herself.

(In defense of the book, the section around her uncle’s return to discover the family putting on a play is fantastic.)

Book #9 ~~ The Writer’s Diet: Writing Yourself Right-Size, by Julia Cameron ~~ Let me start by admitting that I have not read "The Artist’s Way," Cameron’s popular book about restoring or discovering creativity. It came into use while I was finishing seminary, and although it was offered as a class at Large Church and then later by a group affiliated with Small Church, I could never fit it into my schedule. Some of the terms in that book have entered the general consciousness, at least of pastors and writers, so I was familiar with the concept of "Morning Pages" and "Artist’s Dates."

In a general way, I like her idea. It is her experience that people taking her classes have lost weight while doing the writing process of Morning Pages, and she has written a book about all sorts of ways to use a journal to support weight loss by becoming honest with yourself about what you are eating and why.

I’m finding interesting areas of resistance to what she has written, some of which are no doubt the kind of resistance you feel when you need to actually work on something, but my major concerns are two.

  • First, doing the kind of depth work she is talking about, especially where there has been trauma involved, requires therapeutic assistance in almost every case. It is late in the book before she raises the need for therapy alongside writing yourself right-sized.
  • Second, although she claims her ideas work with any kind of food plan, there is a definite difference between abstinence-based plans such as OA and moderation-based plans such as Weight Watchers. Her book is definitely more abstinence-oriented. There’s nothing wrong with that in a general way, but I’m not sure she’s as universal as she might like to think she is.

Reading the book has me writing in a paper journal again. The Princess saw me doing it and asked what I was writing about? I explained, and then I said, "It’s weird to be writing something just for myself again." I write sermons and blog posts and newspaper columns, and the whole point of those is to be in touch with others. To write just for me is almost uncomfortably intimate and very interesting. It also hurts, aggravating my old DeQuervain’s tendon synovitis. It may be that I can’t do what I once did, scratching on paper with pencil, and may need to switch to a more ergonomic pen. That makes me a bit sad.

What are you reading?

10 thoughts on “Books #8 and #9”

  1. My goodness, that’s a fancy name for an ailment!
    I finished the third of Jan Caron’s “Mitford” series last night. I’ll probably head to the library today to get the next couple.

  2. I just finished ‘The Shack’ by William Young; a new ‘hot book’ in some Christian circles. I was profoundly moved by the book – sobbed, literally, at several points – and I’m trying to process the impact it had on me in a spiritual sense. It is fiction, yet it throws around some theological precepts with a great deal of specificity and weight. Something about it is mildly disturbing, but I’ve yet to sort it out. I do know, though, that it impacted me greatly – my worship experience on Sunday was different because of the broader perspective I brought to interacting with God as described in this book. I’d love to know if anyone else has read it, and what they thought…
    Also, just finished a new Lisa Scottoline novel from my mom (candy). Currently reading ‘Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith’ by Kathleen Norris.
    Oh, and the TIME magazine profile of George Clooney. Yum.

  3. Oh goodness…now I feel guilty that I’ve somehow spoiled your friendship with Fanny Price. Hope you don’t miss her!
    And I’ve just started writing with a pen in a real paper journal again myself…but I do miss the dynamic. I keep wanting to show bits to special friends, SpirDir etc etc. Thank God for blogging 🙂

  4. Be aware that your perception of Fanny may change yet again. I read the book some three or four times before I finally made peace with the character. More than any other Austen character, we’re supposed to see Fanny as very ordinary, not someone who excels at anything in particular. She’s not Elizabeth Bennett with her wit and humor, nor is she Emma with her breeding and drive. Fanny has no overtly attractive qualities, but there are many like her in this world. Austen’s point is that such individuals are equally of value and may still win in the marriage mart.

  5. I just finished The Testament of Gideon Mack and am without words. I need to read it over before I can comment. This is a good thing…I usually/often read such facile things…

  6. I am reading The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman. It’s about a Warsaw Zoo during WWII and the housing of over 300 Jews that were protected from the Nazis.

  7. I’m reading a book about NO! by David Walsh for a book club at CG’s school. But I think I”m going to be (re)reading some Austen now as a result of ths post.

  8. I am enjoying Anne Lamott’s “Grace (Eventually)”. I am delighting in her wit and raw honesty.
    I noticed that there is a new Jan Karon release, so I’ll be keeping my eyes open for that at the library.

  9. I’ll jump in and defend Fanny, too: it’s fascinating to watch her navigating the very dangerous waters of the different social classes, and learning, throughout the novel, about what it means and costs to change social spheres (whether voluntarily or involuntarily).
    But she can be vexing, I grant you. And Mary Crawford gets a bad rap; and I am looking forward to meeting with one of my best students tomorrow, especially because her Mansfield Park paper is a defense of Mary Crawford’s morals.
    As for me? I ought to answer that I’m reading student papers, but I’ve also been reading “A Curse Dark As Gold,” which is a fascinating retelling of Rumplestiltskin, and Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins detective novels (noir, featuring an African-American WWII veteran in L.A.). Pretty awesome stuff.

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