Saturday, March 02, 2019

February - it's a wrap!

Wow, only one post in February. It's not that I haven't been reading, but I write so much in my day job that I need a break from it.

Nevertheless, blogging is a habit I'm not ready to break.


I belong to the fabulous Denver/Boulder region and our February meeting was devoted to discussing two books we decided to group read. I read both before the meeting, and it was such a treat to return to my beloved Austen world.

What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, by John Mullan - really enjoyable, although the title is a bit misleading. It's not that Mullan explains twenty plot issues that have puzzled readers. Instead he answers the question, what matters in Austen, with the simple declarative, Everything! In other words, whatever Austen takes the time to describe matters in terms of understanding how the novel and its themes and characters and worldview work. The weather matters, the distance between place matters, the complexion of a woman, the cut of a man's coat. Unlike most authors, Austen's details aren't there to help fill in a world, they are there to communicate important information about that world and its stories. I gave this book five stars--loved it and will reread it. Here's a short interview with the author, who is as charming as the book he wrote.

Jane Austen at Home, by Lucy Worsley - also very enjoyable. Essentially a bio of Austen, but with an emphasis on where she lived and what it was like to live where she did and what it meant about her family's socio-economic status at any given time to inhabit the houses, rooms, neighborhoods that they occupied. I've read a fair number of Austen bios so the most interesting part of this book for me was the time she spent in Southampton after her father died and before she went to Chawton. The cramped quarters, the damp, the near squalor were eye-opening to me and this is a time in her life that is often skimmed by. At one point, she was in a household of 8-9 women, including servants, with barely enough beds for everyone to lie down at night. Another excellent book and one I'm glad I read.

Our JASNA region is starting up a bookclub that meets on alternate months from our regional meetings, so I have a lot of Austen/Regency books to look forward to in the coming months.

Audio Treats

Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail, by Ben Montgomery - I heard about this book on the wonderful blog Shelf Love, and knew I had to read it. Thankfully my library had an audio copy that I downloaded. I love to hike and walk and have dreamed of hiking at least part of the Appalachian Trail since the first time I read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. 

Emma Gatewood, at age 67, became the first woman to through hike the 2000+ miles from Georgia to Maine. She did this in sneakers, without a backpack or sleeping bag, and minimal provisions. She sought shelter in farms and houses along the way, but occasionally ended up sleeping rough on picnic tables, haystacks, etc. Not only that, she hiked the AT two more times, and walked the Oregon Trail from Independence, MO to Portland, her early 70s. She received incredible notoriety, and helped establish hiking trails in her home state of Ohio.

Montgomery does an excellent job of telling Emma's story and backstory and I liked the idea that he ultimately gave to her desire to long-distance hike alone--it was her way of taking back and owning her life. As an abused wife who nearly died at the hands of her horrible husband many times, when she finally broke free she was determined to live life on her terms. Truly inspiring.

I just got a guidebook for the Harper's Ferry section of the AT and am hoping to visit next year for a week or so to hike and explore the part of the AT that most appeals to me.

Boar Island, by Nevada Barr - I'm about 10 minutes away from finishing the audio book of another Anna Pigeon, NPS ranger, mystery. I have been reading Anna Pigeon mysteries for decades now, and enjoy them so much. This one takes place briefly in Boulder, CO - my stomping ground - and Acadia NP in Maine, which is near the top of the NPs on my bucket list. It's good, interesting, a bit coincidental at times, but still a fun book.

War and Peace

I decided in December that 2019 was going to be the year that I finally read War and Peace, by Leo TolstoyThe idea initially was to read two books per month and that would get  me through most of the year. The problem with that plan is that it is so good, I just cannot stop. Now, I'm thinking that I can finish it in March and then treat myself to the Andrew Davies mini-series in April.

The battles are a bit challenging to read about since I know virtually nothing about the Russian part of the Napoleonic Wars, so I have to keep on referring to Wikipedia for info on places, people, events, etc. Luckily I am reading the Norton Critical Edition, edited by George Gibian, whose notes are exceptionally good and relevant with regards to history and Tolstoy. And they are at the bottom of the page so I can read them and not have to flip to the back.


Almost done with the second season of Medici - I had watched the first couple of episodes of season 1 last summer on the way to Paris, and then devoured it when we got home. So, I rewatched season 1 before embarking on season 2. I have to say, I think season 1 was the better of the two, but I just cannot get enough of the Tuscan countryside, the Duomo, and seeing the Renaissance art being created before my eyes. Definitely a fun way to get through the final (I hope) days of winter!

Happy March--looking forward to warmer days (it's been snowing all day today!), budding trees, crocuses, daffodils, walks after dinner and before breakfast, and lots of great books!


  1. You have read or are reading some impressive books. The Jane Austen related books sound very good. I should read more about her myself.

    I will also eventually get to War and Peace. I have heard from multiple sources that despite its length, it is an entertaining book. I found Anna Karenina to be surprisingly accessible.

  2. I only posted once in February also. :(

    Interesting the comparison that John Mullen made between Austen and Edward St. Aubyn. I have the first three books in his Patrick Melrose novels but am a little afraid to read them due to the depiction of abuse.

    Good luck on finishing War and Peace. Don Quixote was is my "big book" of 2019 but currently I am stalled. I need to get back into reading it!

  3. I haven't read Nevada Barr in many years but I do like her mysteries. Have a fun March Jane.

  4. I loved the 2016 TV miniseries of War and Peace with Lily James as Natasha, Paul Dano as Pierre, and James Norton as Prince Andrei. That is saying a lot, since my heart has belonged to the film starring Audrey Hepburn, Mel Ferrer, and Henry Fonda (with Jeremy Brett as Natasha's brother, Nicholas) for a long time. But this new adaptation deserves high praise indeed. Lily James appears able to do anything: from Rose in Downtown Abbey to Cinderella to Elizabeth Bennet (in Pride and Prejudice with Zombies) to Churchill's wise assistant Elizabeth Layton in Darkest Hour to the lead in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. What a range! And she is spot on as Natasha. Paul Dano reveals Pierre's conflicted motivations much more clearly, it seems to me, than any previous actor in the role, and I liked him in it very much. So happy reading and later viewing of this miniseries!

    1. Yes, Lily James is wonderful, and I picture her perfectly as Natasha while I am reading the novel. So glad to hear you praise this new version—I was hoping it was good.

      I knew that Audrey Hepburn was in the film version, but I didn’t know that Henry Fonda was as well. I think of him as such an American actor, it’s hard for me to imagine him in the world of W&P.

  5. I totally want to read Grandma Gatewood's Walk. I've been obsessed with the Applachian Trail for year. Will probably never manage to walk it all, but I sure would like to hike some of it someday. :)

  6. I've read a few of Nevada Barr's series, but it's been a while since I picked one up.
    War and Peace is so intimidating. I'm glad you're enjoying it.

  7. What a lovely wrap-up. There's nothing quite like delving into the life of Jane Austen for a bit of fun, Regency era trivia. I'm in the middle of W&P too. It's taken a while to grow on me, but I'm loving it now, although the war parts can be a bit of a challenge. Pierre and Natasha are my favourites. I'll look forward to coming out the other side, and seeing you do the same :)

  8. Thanks Jane for this great wrap up and I want to check out the Medici series and also Grandma Gatewood's Walk. I read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed which I liked which was also about a woman who decided to hike a difficult trail alone as a way recover from painful memories. One thing I would imagine Grandma's Gatewood Walk deals with is how these trails are dangerous to get through & must be planned for.

  9. The Grandma hiking book looks really good. She makes me think I still have time in life to do the AT! It's hard to imagine she did it without a sleeping bag or backpack? Crazy. Good luck on War & Peace!

  10. The book about the Appalachian trail sounds great! I hope you get out to Harpers Ferry. And I'm glad to hear you're enjoying War and Peace. I found the non-battle parts much more readable than I expected and I loved the characters. I've never seen the miniseries.

  11. I have the Worsley book! And I've finally found out our next assignment is in the DC area, there are two different JASNA regions I can join -- I'm so looking forward to being active in a group again. And are you going to the AGM in Williamsburg? I've already made my hotel reservation and I've persuaded my sister to come with me.

    1. Lucky you, going to Williamsburg. I wish I could've gone this year, but too many other commitments. What a perfect setting for an AGM. JASNA is a sanity lifeline for me--I hate to miss a meeting!

  12. I love your Austen reads. I need to look them! I'm so jealous about your book club for JASNA. I need to figure out how to get involved and if there is a local Wisconsin chapter. I'm starting up at classics book club at my library to meet quarterly and Pride and Prejudice is our first pick for April. I'm hoping to pick a big fat read like War and Peace for next year. I loved Anna Karenina, but I have never read War and Peace.