Once upon a time and everytime…..

So the Classic Club’s September Meme is contributed by Brona from Brona’s Books –

Rereading a favorite classic at different stages of your life gives you different insights with each reading. Is there one classic you’ve read several times that also tells a story about you?

Please be forewarned, this is going to be a loooooonnnngggg post!

Like a lot of people I began my formative years reading a lot of classics and like many I always thought of myself, especially in my teens as (Yup! You guessed it!) Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by the greatest of all, Jane Austin  – I wanted to believe I was clear-headed, was quick  and witty and above all could give it back with all due decorum and politeness! Of course, there was always the sneaky feeling that if I became a Lizzy Bennett, I will find a Fitzwilliam Darcy – I already had a bit crazy and extremely hyper mother and a very laconic and sarcastic, albeit thoroughly sensible father. But life has different plans in place and as I grew older and read all of Jane Austin’s work more closely, I began to realize that I am actually a Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, again by Jane Austin – I was an intellectual and cultural snob, who would turn her nose at anything low brow. I was extremely passionate about everything, still am, the only difference is at that point and this is the University years, I was passionate to the point of fanaticism. I also believed that there is only and only one true love and no secondary attachment could be that passionate. I had even found a semi – Willoughby! (Yikes!!! Super Yikes! Let’s not even get into that!) But now in my more respectable and mature 30 years of age, I know despite every plans and intentions, I have settled down to being a Jane Bennett (from Pride and Prejudice, the elder sister to the much aspired, Ms Elizabeth Bennett)  – how colorless can one get????? But facts are facts – though I do not have the legendary beauty of the eldest Ms Bennett, there can be no denying that I am a fool and do not see faults in anyone unless I am run over by avarice and selfishness of the other.  I am so busy, ensuring everybody else is happy, that no matter how unhappy I am, I keep up the demeanor, without realizing that those that are close to me can never be truly happy unless I am happy! The only thing lacking is Mr Bingley ( Mr Soulmate is nothing like Bingley – he is nothing like any of Jane Austin’s heroes!) and a sanguine temper – I am short fused and this is a carry-over from my Marianne Dashwood days!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is another book, whose re-reading has made me identify more and more with her. As a teenager, when I read the book, I was not particularly impressed by the namby pamby Jane Eyre and her stiff upper lip stance. I wanted fire and courage in my heroines and Jane was a calm stream of water. But re-reading the book during an interesting phase of my life (The Willoughby phase!), I realized how much of strength it takes for an ordinary governess to stand up to a Mr Rochester – to demand to be treated as an equal and what’s more to seek respectability and honesty in a relationship, even when your heart is breaking and you are completely in love with the person. Jane Eyre clearly was one of few books to take such a strong equality stance between men and women, with the subtle underlining of a simple message that took me years to learn, vis-à-vis, matters of the heart, that something simply cannot be compromised on – no matter how high the cost!

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was another novel which I read during my teens and could not really relate too. It took me good 9 years in a corporate environment to understand what it is to be not only very good, but absolutely excel at your job and how the larger crowd with mediocre talents will try to pull you down. Though I am blessed to be working for a great company that actually has very limited if any Corporate politics, but there can be no getting away from the truth – the mediocre crowd would always find flaws with you if you are really good. They would rather you confirm to their average standards, that stand up alone and raise the bar! Individuality is good and having a mind of your own is even better – it’s difficult to stand alone holding the reins of success, but I rather hold the reins than become a blind horse treading the known path!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is yet another book that made me realize a lot of home truths very early. In my Marianne Daswood phase, I could not fathom anyone making big mistakes in life and living on – the concept of forgiving and moving on was alien to me and therefore for a very long time I could not relate to Caleb’s actions in igniting Aron’s mind against their father Adam Trask. It was only much later as I became closer to my sister who was 14 years my senior and always the golden child of the family; therefore for a long time in my eyes taking the place of Aron (though she is undoubtedly more kind to the parents!) that I learnt about making mistakes, accepting them and moving on to make a better life. The day I accepted that I transitioned from a Marianne to a Jane!

Finally and I know I have already written a blog on this but no book at any point of time made me what I am and whose re-reading over the years has just made me appreciate a little more about such non tangential things like courage, honor and integrity – about standing up for one‘s beliefs no matter what and about strength that comes in all forms – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My basic principle of life came from this book and has only become stronger over the years – unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

Exceeding Expectations

I know this is kind of late, but I guess better late than never! Though Oscar Wilde felt very differently about that quote! But as usual I digress; this is not a post about Oscar Wilde but about Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation.

Now I know in bits and parts I have moaned about the fact that I did not like this book at all during my middle school and I still do not understand the point of making 13 year olds read Dickens or Bronte or Eilliot! I mean these authors did not write young adult books, they wrote absolutely adult books – you know by adults, of adults and for adults! But why do schools insist on putting young students through such torture is beyond me – I mean I am sure a lot of my contemporaries have developed an absolute horror for literature because of such childhood inflictions. The schools should stick to Ann of Green Gables and at their most ambitious, Little Women. Not more than that! They should seriously consider how many readers they are turning away by forcing them to read “great literature” when the audience concerned can barely spell literature! I mean the estates/publishers of Brontes and Dickens should seriously consider suing the school boards. But again I digress.

great-expectations-by-charles-dickensSo thanks to the July Spin of Classics Club, I was forced to confront my nemesis – I have never been fond of Dickens and the childhood experience kind of left me wary. Add to that my last trial with the Classic Club Spin – I came away disliking Madame Bovary as much as before and was glad when I was done with it. So it was with some perdition that I picked up Great Expectations. But am I glad I did! I l loved the book! Absolutely loved it! Just goes to show that one cannot always go by experience and stereotypes
I am sure most people know the story of Great Expectations – Orphaned Pip is growing up with his harridan of a sister and kind brother in law, until a fruitful encounter with an escaped convict whom he manages to assist, though the former is caught and sent away. The next adventure that comes back in Pip’s life is to “come and play” at Miss Havisham’s house, the most wealthy denizen of the town. There he meets and falls in love with Estella, Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter. As he falls deeper and deeper in love with Estella, he is horrified to know that he cannot be “gentleman” capable of courting Estella and his life was to be confined to the iron forges of his brother in law’s trade. An unexpected turn of event changes his life as he is made aware that an anonymous benefactor whose identity is not be disclosed and who has endorsed Mr Jaggers, the lawyer to act as a guardian to Pip and enable him to receive a gentleman’s education and live in that style. Pip is then moved from Kent and his adventures in London and his coming of age is the main plot line of the book.

Now what I really love about the book is the details – whether it is the description of the Christmas Lunch or the description of the now devastated venue of Miss Havisham‘s wedding or John Wemmick’s “Castle”. I am also extremely enamored of the characters – one cannot help but love the kind hearted Joe or the sensible Biddy, one wants a friend like Herbert and despite the entire idiosyncrasy, there is certain pathos about Miss Havisham which really moved me. I am still unsure about Estella, but I did dislike her as much as I had when I originally read the book. Most importantly what I loved about the book was the “humane” depiction on Pip and his actions. When Joe first comes to visit Pip, Pip’s behavior leaves one much ashamed and yet I am sure that many and that too many honest people would act in a similar fashion in that kind of time and place. But again the true portrayal of the vast range of emotions that a human is capable when the same Pip goes to John Wemmick and requests that he assist him in setting up Herbert without letting him know that Pip is his benefactor and he has not really “earned” the partnership. And finally the end wins your heart for ever – you realize Pip is just like you capable of great things and though the end does not come with a perfect ending, I cannot help but think that in the imperfection of the ending lies the most perfect piece of the tale. Otherwise there were one too many neat packages in the book!

Like I said, I loved it and I would strongly recommend reading it. In fact the book has made me brave enough to attempt Bleak House and David Copperfield again!

The Happy Sad Syndrome

Is there anything called Happy Sad? You know when you are filled with joy of knowing someone and yet there is sadness of parting? I am truly blessed not to have parted with someone like that in real life – I mean I do have close friends and family who have moved away and I do miss them terribly! But there is always the hope of meeting again and starting off from where we left. Therefore, all my Happy Sad relations are limited, (sigh and thank heavens!) with books.There are those books that make you laugh through the whole bloody tale, only to make you cry (because otherwise the lump in your throat would choke you) in the end and yet when you close the book, you are smiling, cause you have just formed a Happy Sad relationship!

I know I am being maudlin, but bear with me! I just underwent such a cathartic Happy Sad moment! I just finished reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. This was my first book by John Green and I had no idea it was a young adult book and even if I did, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damm!

The story sounds very mushy and sentimental – Hazel Lancaster is a terminally ill girl who is forced to go to a Cancer Support Group meeting by her mother so that she can deal with her illness. At such a meeting, she meets Augustus Walters, a Cancer survivor and they start seeing each other. As their relationship develops, so does their obsession with author Peter Van Houten who had written a book called An Imperial Affliction, which does not really have an ending. In order to find an appropriate end to the story, Augustus uses his Wish from The Genie Foundation, to sponsor a trip to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author and get a closure on the book they both love.

But there is so much more to this book than teenage mush and of course the whole tragedy of young people dying of cancer. This book is filled with sparkling wit and wonderful humor and some absolutely marvelous prose and some heartbreaking moments. Let me elaborate –

When Hazel is worried that she would break his heart by dying of her illness, Augustus says ““Oh, I wouldn’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”

The humor crackles through the book; here a sample when Augustus’s sister try to cochie coo him, making him uncomfortable –
“It’s just that most really good-looking people are stupid, so I exceed expectations.’
‘Right, it’s primarily his hotness,’ I said.
‘It can be sort of blinding,’ he said.
‘It actually did blind our friend Isaac,’ I said.
‘Terrible tragedy, that. But can I help my own deadly beauty?’
‘You cannot.’
‘It is my burden, this beautiful face.’
‘Not to mention your body.’
‘Seriously, don’t even get me started on my hot bod. You don’t want to see me naked, Dave. Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace’s breath away,’ he said, nodding toward the oxygen tank.”

And the heartbreaking moments like when Hazel worries what will happen to her parents after she dies and she makes them promise to be together and continue leading a good fulfilling life.

The sensitivity with which a very difficult subject has been handled, without sentimentality and loads of fun (in fact the book is replete with mockery of all those books with cancer patients who do such courageous things, when in reality there is nothing poetic about dying a slow and painful death). There is a lot of good sense and practicality and an unearthly sense of reality. There is THIS whole piece of talking over the phone just before you drop off to sleep which is even better than being with the person, because it is togetherness beyond the obvious. I know exactly what that Hazel is talking about. While I am not 16 and I am not sick, I do talk to Mr. Soulmate every day just before I drop off to sleep and it’s one of the most wonderful experiences, where it seems like I am with him no matter what the time and space and there is something intransient about us!

That’s another thing about John Green’s book – he is a man; but the story is written from a girl’s point of view and boy! Does this man know the soul of woman or what? It’s like he is sitting in living room of a girl’s heart and writing from there.

Like I said, I could go on and on about the book, but it’s just something you need to read and savor on your own, like Hazel says –
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

Where has all the romance gone?

I am not particularly fond of reading romances – I mean Elizabeth Bennett – Mr Darcy, Winter de Ballesteros and Alex Randall or Hermione Granger and Ron Weasely (Yes! I know this was a sub plot of a sub plot but there is romance and once cannot deny it!) romances apart, I have not read like a really good love story.  And no, I do not consider Eric Segal’s Love Story as immortal, in fact far from it.

romanceWhile I growing up, I had devoured, Judith McNaughts (Sigh! Yes! I know the errors of youth!), but I cannot  seem to find any more charm in them, though I know there are millions of readers who swear by her books! May be its growing up – maybe it’s just cheesy, maybe it’s too much of Champaign and caviar dreams and too little of reality, but the heroes over whom I drooled over as a young girl – you know Zachary Benedict (Perfect) Stephen Westmoreland (Until You) or even Royce Westmoreland (Kingdom of Dreams), can no longer please me – and the heroines, let me not get started. Julie who has worked so very hard for her Perfect life and is so fond of her adoptive family, is ready to give all up to run away to Mexico with a convict. She is strong woman who faints (I mean who faints in this day and age) when Feds take away Zachary Benedict and mouths such inanities like “Oh! Please don’t hurt him!” – I mean what? You turned him over because you became convinced that he was a criminal and then what do you expect Feds to do – give him a Presidential treatment????? Sherry, who is supposed to be soul of sensibility and which is why she was hired as a chaperone anyway, runs away at the first moment of recovering her memory instead of explaining things to Stephen Westmoreland who knew and in fact had rescued her after the accident. Also one cannot help but wonder at how liberal was Regency England in accepting a daughter of rancher as the Duchess of the most powerful houses of Great Britain. If you ask me, it’s stretching the Cinderella story a wee bit too much. I am not even getting into the cutesy scene of Sherry making the entire servant quarter sing carols because she needed hot chocolate or the cook’s boy was upset or both!  (Yuck! Where is my barf bag?) And finally Jennifer , the strong red-headed Scot who needs acceptance from her family so badly, that she is willing to get Royce Westmoreland killed by her promise not to harm them, though he himself practically gets killed in the process.  Having said all of this – Kingdom of Dreams is perhaps the best of all McNaughts, though Royce Westmoreland behaves like a boor and a jerk (like all McNaught heroes), he at least tries to redeem himself by even dying for the sake of the woman he loves. Also for once, there is some history and the author does try to put in some history like the conflict between England and Scotland!

romance 2Or it could simply be the timing – when I first read these books in my YA days, maybe I had lot more hope or at the very least fantasy about how love should be. These days I take up sloppy romances when things have taken a downturn with Mr Soulmate and that in itself puts me a cynical framework of mind, so I really cannot be all that tolerant towards mush! (Yes! I know the big question is why I read books only after horrifying fights with him needs psychological intervention!) Though I still believe in that one true all-consuming love, (I know I am naïve and I am proud of it!), I guess I also know life does not always work out in neat little packages which you can tie up with a bright-colored strings and one has to kiss of lot more than one toad to finally reach Prince Charming. Even when you reach Prince Charming, it’s not always necessary that it will go exactly as you plan – career, commitment issues etc etc. will act as villains and you do not need and wicked fathers or the Feds to spice up your love story!

So what is the point of all this rambling – can somebody please take pity on a struggling writer/ Project Manager with her God-only-knows-what-status-of-relationship-I-have-issues and passion for reading and suggest some good romances –not googy slop, but all time abiding love storys!

P.S. I do not want suggestions like Barbra Cartland or Nicholas Spark. These all qualify as slops, in fact the latter is so excessively sweet that anyone with even one dose of Spark, runs the risk of diabetes for live.