Sunday, February 20, 2011

"But...weren't you an English major?"

I've actually heard those words, generally in reference to some novel or poetry collection I've admitted to not having read.  Those who ask the question clearly imply that there must have been some massive book list requirement for all English majors, and that if I've not read something like War and Peace (which, by the way, I haven't), then I don't really belong in the club.

I do have a degree in English.  I am also the daughter of a college English professor.  My love of books and reading and writing is undeniably ingrained in my heart and soul, possibly even engineered into my genetic makeup.

The truth is that while I've probably read countless books in most every genre, there are so many classics which I have to confess I have not read.

I can definitely say that I've read nearly every novel published by a Bronte sister (thank you, Dr. Heineman and my beloved Victorian Lit class!)... much as I've loved every movie adaptation of Jane Austen's works, I have to admit I've not yet gotten around to reading many of her novels.

I've read Homer, Shakespeare, Twain, Poe, Swift, Kafka and so many more, for both assignment and pleasure.

But... I've never read Anna Karenina
Or the aforementioned War and Peace
Or even The Count of Monte Christo or Les Miserables.
Even (brace yourself!) Oliver Twist.

I am currently reading a book for review which is loosely based on a less well-known work of a very well-known author.  When I realized that the referenced book is one I have not read, I had a fleeting moment of shame, as if I should have somehow known that one day, it would be important to read that obscure title, and what kind of English major do I think I am, anyway?

Because aren't people who have English degrees, by virtue of their very existence, expected to have read pretty much all of the classics?  To know each and every Important Author and their particular contributions?

But then again, maybe not...

Realistically, even the most dedicated of readers cannot possibly read everything.

And while I know I can't realistically read it all, I am thrilled that there will always, always be a book to be read, something new (even if it's only new to me).

I've already got a huge list of books in my TBR pile, some literally piled on a bookshelf and some sitting in my Nook, waiting.

But I've also got Project Gutenberg bookmarked, because so many of these wonderful gifts of classic literature are there, free for the downloading now that their copyrights have expired.  Many of these are available directly through Amazon for the Kindle and through Barnes and Noble for the Nook.

I don't believe I ever did see that monumental list of required classics for English majors, and regardless of those silly, fleeting moments of guilt over not reading what I "should have" read by now, I am so glad that there will always be a way to read those I missed, and that there is still plenty of time to catch up.

The only hard part is choosing what to read next, isn't it? :)

I'm thinking that I'll start with everything Austen, and maybe, one day, I will work my way toward War and Peace...

Maybe.  :)

Are there any classics that you've always wished you'd read?
Are there any that you plan to read soon?  Or re-read?


Did you know that you can help Project Gutenberg?
Volunteer to proofread one page a day!
I just registered -- maybe you want to give it a try, too?
See the link on the Project Gutenberg site, or go straight to the Distributed Proofreaders website, here.   :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Romantic Expectations

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and  more likely than not, most of our significant others will be making that frantic attempt to fulfill the traditional Valentine's Day expectation of romance, be it in the form of candlelight dinners, flowers, chocolates, poetic cards or all of the above.

While I certainly enjoy the extra attention Valentine's Day can bring, I've found that I don't really put as much emphasis on it anymore.

Not that it isn't a nice idea to have a day devoted to appreciating the one you love.  I am all for that!  And giving our men/significant others a little reminder to appreciate us can never be a bad idea.  But really, shouldn't that be an everyday thing?

There was a time (pre-marriage, pre-kids), when I wanted all of that Romance, with the capital "R."  I wanted the flowers (roses, if you please), the intimate dinners, the moments filled with heartfelt declarations, and all of the grand gestures of True Romance.

Flowers and pretty sentiments are all well and good, on Valentine's Day or any other, and while I enjoy those grand gestures when they come around, I don't require them in quite the same way.

Now, don't get me wrong --  I certainly won't dream of turning down a dozen red roses if they're offered.  ;)  But they're not necessary in the same way other things are, maybe because what I consider romantic or sexy has changed as I've grown older.

Interestingly (maybe oddly?), my favorite heroes of the romance novels I've read in recent years aren't the type for grand gestures, for the most part.  They're more quietly appreciative, with love expressed more in word and deed than with flowers and gifts.  I'm far more impressed and intrigued by a man (fictional or not) who can truly appreciate a strong, independent woman while understanding the value of a gentlemanly gesture, or one who can give his woman strength when she needs it, but knows she can hold her own and admires her for it (Outlander's Jamie Fraser comes to mind...easily my favorite romantic hero). 

Back here in the real world, though, sometimes it's simply the little things that I find sexy or romantic.  For instance, here are a few of the type of moments that can make me melt more than a box of chocolates on a sunny day:

      A big man cradling a tiny infant in his arms...

      Fathers dancing with daughters...

      A cup of coffee refilled without asking...

      The words, "No, honey, you sleep; I'll get the baby/let the dog out/make the coffee."

      Sharing a glass of wine while the kids are settling into sleep...
      Being told, "Don't worry; I'll take care of it."  About anything.

      The gas tank being filled so I don't have to stop...

      Finding my car warming up in the driveway just before I was going to do it myself...

Well, you get the idea.  :)
Real romance is just so much more than can be captured in one day of expression, isn't it?  It's in the most ordinary of moments sometimes.  And for me, it's everyday mutual respect and consideration that I find truly romantic. And worth so much more than an annual bouquet of short-lived flowers.

Here's hoping your Valentine's Day is filled with whatever you consider the most romantic of moments. :)

Things to ponder...
Does Valentine's Day mean the same to you that it always did?  How has it changed for you?
What do you consider truly romantic?
Would you give up all the roses and chocolates for something less traditionally romantic? (okay, maybe not the chocolates!)
Who's your favorite romantic hero, from book or movie?
Feel free to share in the comments!  :)

Image courtesy

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow Day Simplicity

(Courtesy of
Here on the East Coast, we are once more in the midst of a blizzard, even as we still valiantly (if unenthusiastically) attempt to dig out from the massive amounts of snow already on the ground.

In the few weeks since I last posted, we've had three storms and roughly three feet of snow (or more? I've lost track).  At this point, exiting driveways and certain roadways is an act of faith, what with the inability to see any possible oncoming traffic past the mountains of snow drifts.  Accelerate and pray...

Of course, this is New England; snow and blizzards and lousy driving conditions are a given, as are occasional power outages. During one of these recent storms, a tree limb came down onto our power lines, leaving us in the dark for nearly 11 hours. With no electricity, a long, dull day seemed to 
loom ahead.

But as the day went on, and my initial antsy annoyance at being cut off from computers, phones and appliances waned a bit, I found myself beginning to appreciate it.  We all gathered around the fireplace, rather than spread out with our various individual activities. We played board games, which we somehow rarely find time for these days.  We read by candlelight.  And we talked. And actually took the time to enjoy one another's company for a change. 

And what I noticed most as I sat by the fire, reading by the light of a couple of candles, was the quiet. 
No television, no constant electrical hum in the air. 
It was...peaceful. 
And surprisingly comfortable.

I won't say I wasn't happy when the power came back, but while it lasted, it really wasn't so bad.  It made me feel less stressed, somehow.  As if I were living in another time, back when there was no electricity and no modern conveniences, and most evenings were necessarily spent in quiet activity near the fire, the only source of warmth and light.

I've often wondered if I am enamored of historical romances in large part because of the depiction of those simpler times.  I enjoy contemporary novels as well, but not nearly as much as those that manage to bring to life the days when there were no modern conveniences or affectations.  There is something calming and intriguing about the thought of a life without the noise and madness we all just accept as necessary these days. 

As wonderful as our daily conveniences may be, there is a trade-off involved; we've given up much of the calm, peaceful quality of life that used to exist in a less modernized world.   And though I know I wouldn't want to be cut off from all of it forever, having that unexpected day of true simplicity wasn't merely tolerable, but actually rather nice.  And I'm sure that the next time the power goes out, I won't grumble.  Instead, I'll just let myself bask in the peace.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the 18th or 19th century?
Would having to wear a tightly-laced corset be a deal breaker, or would you love to dress in the frilly fashions of another time?
What would be the worst thing about it?  The best?
For me, I think the lack of running water would likely send me screaming into the night eventually, but how about you?