Bookmarks: As the books come marching in.


My treasured little black Penguin editions. Found more this side of the pond!


Re-building my library is a whore’s paradise, I ain’t gonna lie. But it’s also terribly sad. Why? As I search the shelves of bookshops I see titles I used to own, but can’t afford to buy back. It would cost a fortune. Visions of grabbing a couple dozen of them, running out the door – pages whipping in the breeze as I flee – dance in my head.

What I need is a good distraction. A really good distraction. Anyone want to run interference for me?

It pays, buddy.

My collection of rare and out of print books was staggering. amassed over more than 20 years. Carefully culling them every few years  like a gardener his roses, I had myself a prime library. Some of my collectibles are in showcases at Half Price Books. I absolutely loathe their ridiculous buying policy. Books they bought from me for a dollar or two sit there with $ 1,000 price tags.

What the ever-loving freak.

I owned the complete Folio Library set of George Eliot’s works. At HPB they’re marked $ 300. I didn’t pay anywhere near that, and I’m pretty doubtful that’s what they’re worth (NOTE: I haven’t actually checked). Such a smarmy business practice. I could stand by my principles and boycott them, but then where would I shop? For the interesting, older, more eclectic stuff there is nowhere else to go.

Interesting, older and eclectic. Stick that on my shortlist of memoir titles.


Not the exact set, but same publisher.


Oh, for the time and luxury to have sold them myself. God, I could have made a small fortune. I miss bookselling sometimes. It’s crossed my mind I could give it another go, for a bit of side income, but it’s incredibly time-consuming. Not only is there the locating of inventory, but entering it into a database, packing and shipping is a pain in the arse. To run a bookshop, you need a partner.

Alas, I’m partner-less.

My ex-husband despised me for all the books lying around the house, the piles by the computer, the shelves upon shelves in the basement. One time, he gathered them up from around the house and threw them down the basement stairs. I happened to be standing there, but he wasn’t aiming directly at me. Not physically. It felt violating and awful. Pages were folded, dust jackets ripped, smaller books bent by behemoths.

To this day I’m sure he has no clue how hurtful that was. If he did, he wouldn’t care.

That foul thief Amazon drove my first venture out of business. I had a dear friend in Florida who partnered with me, each of us with our own inventory, but after a couple of years it became all too obvious we were spending way more than we made.

But God it was fun while it lasted.


One of my first book purchases back in the Colonies.


How should I show you my library? With pictures? Videos? A combination thereof?

Maybe I’ll do a combination of blog posts and vlogs (video blogs, if you’re scratching your head) (video blogs, even if you’re not). And Goodreads. I need to delete the stuff that’s gone and enter what I actually own.

I’d like to keep closer track of what I own. Already, they’re getting away from me. And each one has meaning. I don’t collect indiscriminately. Every book tells a story so much larger than what’s between the covers.

So little to do, so much time.

Strike that. Reverse it.

While it’s still manageable, I’d like to share what I own and why I own it. I smell a feature here. Or maybe it’s the dog.


I like the idea of an irregular feature. I’ll show you mine without expecting you to show me yours. Wait. I’m getting ripped off.

Gather yourself, woman!

I need a couple more bookshelves, the perfect opportunity to start fresh arranging books and telling you about them. I’ll get those over the weekend, slap them together, and as soon as I can I’ll work on the first proper Bookmarks installment.

We have a plan.


Jane Austen Bicentenary: 1817 – 2017


Tomorrow marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen. Austenites world-wide have been in a tizzy of activity all year, organizing programs and events scheduled out past the bicentenary date.

Every site associated with her life will be buzzing this summer, converged upon by fans the world over. Joining them in their pilgrimage will be the Scot and I, who’ll be making the journey to Austen country later this month. Think of us as we’re elbowing past tourists at Chawton Cottage, shoving people off her tombstone in Winchester Cathedral so we can get photos, and squinting at maps of Bath to locate the places she lived and wrote about.


The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Northanger Abbey


Imagine what she’d make of all this brouhaha, how she’d feel knowing the passionate devotion her fans still feel 200 years later. No shrinking violet, she may still blush crimson. If she’d experienced this degree of mania in her lifetime, just think how comfortable she and her sister Cassandra would have been. Not just comfortable but wealthy, in a position to tell off her brother Henry for his stingy treatment of her. It would have changed everything.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my amazement at how many new books are still popping out about her life and work, and that a few review titles have been sent my way by publishers. Since then I’ve heard about one other, a novel this time, whose premise has left me scratching my head:


Harper Perennial
May 2017


London, 1815: Two travelers–Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane–arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters–a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.


Do I request it, do I not? It may be perfectly dreadful. I’m not a big fan of modern retellings of Austen. A literary purist of sorts, I’d rather stick with the primary texts, as well as nonfiction about her and her work. Still, every time a new book comes out related to Jane Austen I notice. I’ll think about it.

My own first experience with Austen was in college. I took a course on Victorian women’s fiction, and despite the fact she’s actually Regency, the professor stuck  Northanger Abbey on the syllabus. I liked it well enough, but it didn’t turn me into a fan. Situated alongside Bronte and Eliot, it came off a little thin, especially since I wasn’t at all acquainted with the gothic fiction Austen mocked in the novel.


The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!

Sense and Sensibility


It was Pride & Prejudice, read much later when my kids were little and I joined an online book group to keep my brain from atrophying, that eventually hooked me. From there I went on to Emma, then Sense & Sensibility. It took me a couple of years, but I got through her other books, as well. Now I adore her.

The Scot and I are so looking forward to chasing Austen, and I’ll have plenty to tell and show you when we get back. Also, reviews of those books I’ve been teasing about. Possibly others I snag in the meantime, too.

Here’s to Jane Austen and her enduring fame. Her astute observations on contemporary Regency society, deep empathy for the plight of women, champion of true love and occasionally wicked, rapier-like wit are forever fresh, no matter how many times I re-read her books.

We’re so fortunate to have had her in the world, however short a time it was.


Jane Austen: 1775 – 1817

New books about Austen, Woolf and the Brontës


2017: A Year of Literary Nonfiction Celebrating British Women Writers

Hat tip to nonfiction scribblers assiduously churning out new literary biographies and criticism about these iconic female authors each and every year. Convinced surely there could be no new angle, I’m always pleasantly surprised when out pops a new one. Wherever this New Idea Generator is located, long may it churn.

Possible candidate: New Idea Generator

Common sense dictates at some future point original topics will be exhausted, until and unless something radically new is found in someone’s trunk or attic. Surely there’s a saturation point? But who am I to say. Keep ’em coming as long as possible. With the 200 year anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth last year, and 200th of not just Austen’s death but also the publication of her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey this year, it’s a veritable bumper crop of delicious nonfiction titles. All the better.

I’ve long dreamed of the existence of an undiscovered Austen manuscript. Ditto the Brontës. Pry up those floorboards in the Haworth parsonage! There just may be something squirreled away.

New titles stretch out as far as early 2018, I’ve found via a few searches on Amazon. No doubt more are lurking past that. Certainly enough new stuff to keep devotees busy for quite some time.

I bought this one a couple of weeks ago. I’m currently reading and enjoying it very much:

Austen, Brontë and Woolf, oh my!

A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
Aurum Press
1 June 2017

And here are some of the others I’ve found whilst rooting around:

General works on female writers of the period

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World by Lyndall Gordon
19 Oct 2017


Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelley DeWees
Harper Perennial
12 Jan 2017

Virginia Woolf

Walking Virginia Woolf’s London by Lisbeth Larrson
Palgrave Macmillan
10 Aug. 2017



Virginia Woolf: A Portrait by Woodring, Forrester and Gladding
Columbia University Press
January 2018 – paperback release

An explosion of Austen!

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
Icon Books Ltd
1 Jun. 2017



Jane Austen at Home: A Biography
by Lucy Worsley
Hodder & Stoughton
18 May 2017


The Genius of Jane Austen by Paula Byrne
William Collins
18 May 2017

Four Austen tiles I’ll be reviewing

Biteback Publishing
25 May 2017
(Currently Reading)


Jane Austen: Writer in the World by Kathryn Sutherland
Bodleian Library
16 June 2017



Jane Austen: Illustrated Quotations
Bodleian Library
3 July 2017



Jane Austen: The Chawton Letters by Kathryn Sutherland
Bodleian Library
29 September 2017


And the Brontës

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis
Chatto & Windus
12 Jan 2017



The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece by John Pfordresher
WW Norton
5 Aug 2017


This is the point at which I make you particularly envious: at the end of this month my favorite Scottish host and I will be taking a journey south of the border to England, where we’ll visit various sites related to these three beloved writers. Five, actually, if you count the other two Brontë sisters Anne and Emily. Mea culpa.

When I have the full list of places we plan to visit (the Scot has that, but he’s in the other room and I cannot be bothered) I’ll post that here. Once I’ve returned, of course I’ll have photos along with excessive, likely rather purple verbiage to share.

Between now and then, I plan to finish as many of the review titles as possible. At the very least, I need to brush up on basic biographical facts about each of the ladies. I posted a few times about the Brontës last year: here, here, here and here. For Woolf, I posted most recently about her shorter fiction. Here’s a post about Woolf and the Brontës, a double-header. As for Austen, aside from some very insubstantial posts, I read Rachel Brownstein’s Why Read Jane Austen? back in 2012, enjoying it immensely.

I’m looking forward to hanging out with these literary ladies this summer, back to Victorian and early 20th century writing. It’s been too long.


Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein

I know what you're thinking… Another book about Jane Austen?! There's already been so much scholarship, she has her own society, legions of fans, and everyone with even a passing affection or admiration for her has already published a book about this much-beloved literary icon. So who is this woman that feels there's still more to say?

She's Rachel M. Brownstein, an English professor at the Brooklyn College of CUNY, who's published two previous books: Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in Novels and Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française. She was educated at Barnard College and received her Ph.D. in English from Yale University.

And what does she have to say about Austen that hasn't already been said? I can't vouch for everything that's ever been written, but I can describe this book as an overview of the basic trends and genres of women's writing – dipping a bit into aspects of feminism – as it pertains to Austen, and deep analysis of the novels, both as expressed by critics and also students. In addition, why Austen continues to be so popular, and the various ways popular culture has adapted her novels to film, are delved into in detail. In short, it's more information about the author than I'd ever have expected to be found in one volume.

Those such as myself who have all the novels, seen some of the film adaptations, and read a couple Austen biographies – including Claire Tomalin's and Austen's nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh's – and possibly other pieces of criticism, Brownstein's treatment is a wonder. Those as smitten by the Regency author as I will find Why Jane Austen? contains a wealth of information, pulling in new perspectives (some seen through the opinions of Brownstein's students), as well as a gathering of previous scholarship. The addition of the heart of popular culture, why Austen became so wildly popular after a period of relative dormancy, is fascinating, as is the way in which this perspective is wound into the criticism as a whole. 

Put simply: Reader, I loved it. So will those with an interest in somewhat more scholarly studies, though you don't need your own Ph.D. in literature to appreciate it. Maybe I should say serious fans, rather than scholarly, though scholars will likewise find much here.

It's just a joy, an essential, updated addition to the already-loaded canon of Austen criticism that isn't a repetition of anything I've personally read before. Once I've re-read the novels – which Brownstein has inspired me to do – I intend to read it again, for it can only improve upon re-reading. Very highly recommended.

George Eliot, Jane Austen and more

Books mentioned in this post:

Jane Austen – Emma

Fanny Burney – Cecilia

Fanny Burney – Evelina

George Eliot – Adam Bede [RR]

George Eliot – The Mill on the Floss

George Eliot – Middlemarch

George Eliot – Life and Letters (ed. by John Cross)

Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love

Khaled Hosseini – The Kite Runner

Kathryn Hughes – George Eliot: The Last Victorian [RR]

Frances Mayes – A Year in the World [DNF]

Annie Proulx – The Shipping News [RR]

I’m so enjoying this recent foray into George Eliot’s Adam Bede. Reading it with an online group is adding even more enjoyment to the experience, as several of us have been fired up by all things GE since starting this read.  I’m nearly done now, and between you and me I’ll admit though I’ve read the book before I DON’T RECALL HOW IT ENDS…

I’m finding the character of Adam’s character even more fascinating than I did before.  He’s such  the quiet giant and that’s a fascinating character type to me. The concept of a man with great power but also great tenderness for a very ornamental young girl (Hetty Sorrel) is just such an interesting contrast. The dialect in this book is a bit irritating, but the plot is just wonderful.  It still isn’t my favorite Eliot.  That would be The Mill on the Floss, with Middlemarch trailing just slightly behind that (her masterpiece, I know, but I prefer the mill mostly for autobiographical elements). But I do enjoy Adam Bede, partly because the genius of Eliot is really budding in this earlier book.

Also still working on re-reading Austen’s Emma for the book group at the library.  I’ll be interested to hear reaction to this book, even more interested to see if I actually finish it in time for the meeting on Friday.  The good thing is I’ve not only read the book before but I’ve seen the various film adaptations many times.  The bad thing is I’ll feel a failure if I don’t finish!

Emma isn’t my favorite Austen but it is a charmer. I like Emma Woodhouse!  I know, not every reader does. I find her charming and goodhearted, if a bit foolish and even immature. She’s just been so sheltered by her domineering father and no doubt that’s colored her personality. When your father tells you all your life that you can do no wrong how can you NOT believe it?  Granted, Emma’s machinations are occasionally a real pain, and even do some degree of harm, but her heart is just so good.  I think I’d like her as a friend, flaws and all.  Perfect people are so boring, anyway.

I won’t be here for the library’s June read of The Kite Runner (would be a re-read for me, too), so I will have all that extra time if I don’t finish Emma by Friday. But I would like to get through this book so I can push on with other books, too.  It just FEELS better having finished, as though something’s been accomplished.

It’s your classic dilemma (no pun intended), understandable only to another fellow book lover.

Have just today retrieved my copy of Frances Mayes’ new book [A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler] from the library. It’s a travel book and should pair nicely in reviews with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Did I mention I liked that book a lot??

Because I liked that book a lot.

Already mentioned I’m re-reading Kathryn Hughes’s George Eliot: The Last Victorian. Still at work on it. It’s a fantastic biography, in case you plan to read one, this would be it. It’s such a good book I have no problem reading it twice. Am also reading my 19th C copy of Eliot’s Life and Letters, edited by her husband Johnny Cross.  Hopefully I can manage to juggle both of these.

[2013: Spoiler alert: I didn’t finish Life and Letters. Not even close. It’s still sitting on my shelf glaring at me.]

[2015: Spoiler alert: I’ve forgotten I ever vowed to read this volume.]

The Proulx’s The Shipping News re-read is progressing nicely.  It’s also making me yearn for a visit to Newfoundland in the worst way. I’ve been to Nova Scotia, and it became a favorite spot for me, and now I’m eyeing Newfoundland. Quite a bit further than N.S., though.


[2013: Nope, still haven’t been to Newfoundland. Most likely never will.]

Am debating whether I’ll re-read Fanny Burney’s Cecilia with the 18thC discussion group.  I just recently read her Evelina, which was very good, but do I want to clog up my reading time with this weighty book?

[2013: Am pretty sure I didn’t re-read Cecilia. It’s a chunkster plus FB’s books are pretty much all the same: beautiful,  young woman comes into a fortune then gets courted by men wanting a piece of the money. There’s a good man and a bad man (well, in Evelina he’s just plain bad) and she must choose. Pretty much describes most 28th C literature.]

Terribly sleepy.  Need either a nap or caffeine transfusion!  I’m off to find a really strong cup of tea…