Delighting in discovery

My first car!
My first car!

 

When you hear or see the word “discovery,” you may automatically thing big, bold life-changing things, like finding new species, coming up with a scientific equation, or unearthing centuries-old artifacts. But as I’ve learned in the last few months, discovery can also mean the everyday little things that we might take for granted until our life situations force us to look at them in a new perspective. Discovery doesn’t necessarily have to mean completely new, and it doesn’t have to be important to everyone or even understood by everyone; it can be something that’s just for you to marvel at and cherish.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered recently:

  • Getting your first car ever just before turning 30 can be just as exciting and life-changing as it is for a teenager. When I drove home in my newly leased reflex blue Mazda3 two weeks ago, I had that feeling — the one in songs and road trip movies. It’s been a long time since I drove around town in a car, and now that I am doing it in one that’s all mine, well, it’s just wonderful.
  • Volunteering at a library does make you more well-read. Heck, even having a library card makes you more well-read. I hadn’t used a library since college until about a year ago when I moved to California, and now I’m volunteering at my library in town, keeping the books in order on the shelves, and cleaning the gross ones. It’s unbelievable what’s out there (many times I ask myself, “Why did someone write about this? Why would someone want to read this?”), and it’s making me expand my reading horizons a bit more each week. A library is a perfect place for discovery.
  • Meeting people in a new city in your late 20s is harder than it looks. Especially when you start out without a car (problem now solved) and you live 45 minutes from downtown. You have to make things happen yourself. This means going on Meetup.com and joining running groups (have done one run so far), or signing up to be a volunteer (check), or taking on a part-time gig (check), or joining Match.com again (reluctantly, check). It’s not like arriving in the city fresh out of college when friends fall into your lap at networking events, happy hours, and work gatherings. This is where “pounding the pavement” becomes a thing again.
  • Your parents are always going to be worried about you. That’s their job. After living away from mine for several years, they got used to not knowing every detail of my life. But now that I live with them, things get scary again, when you throw in driving around a new city, meeting new people (men!), etc, etc. Best way to work through it? Talk it out, and get everyone on the same page about feelings, expectations, and needs. Then just know that they’ll still worry, and you all have to live with it.
  • It’s easy to get comfortable. But it’s better to challenge yourself and be true to yourself. Between moving forward in my new career path, making choices about people from my past, and not falling into old habits and emotional setbacks, I’ve been constantly reminding myself to keep my eye on the prize. So I cold called a tutoring center down the street and convinced them I would be a great addition to their team despite having no educational background — one step in the right direction for following my passion. I’ve turned down consulting projects that don’t align with my interests or my availability. And I’m striving to stay true to my needs when it comes to relationships of all kinds.

As I continue to explore my new world and my new lifestyle, I’m sure I’ll continue to make more discoveries, big and small, that play a role in what happens next. What are some things you’ve discovered?

For the love of books

bookshelf

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”  – Cicero

I think I’ve read more books in the last 10 months than I have in the last three or four years. I suppose that’s what being on a part-sabbatical while working from home in the country does for you – it’s given me a chance to get a library card again for the first time in years, to hungrily devour books long on my “to read” list and revisit favorites from my youth. It’s made me choose reading over TV and the social media, led me to staying up late just to finish one more chapter (or the end of a book), and it’s reaffirmed that reading is one of the things that brings me the most joy in life.

In honor of National Reading Month, I wanted to acknowledge some of the books, characters, and reading moments that have stuck with me through life, out of the hundreds (thousands?) of books I’ve completed.

  • Little House in the Big WoodsThe Book of Goodnight Stories: a wonderful illustrated book of fairy tales and fables, broken up to last an entire year. It was one of the first books my mom read to me. I still have it, and look forward to reading it to my children someday.
  • The Long Winter: I think this was the first Little House book I ever read. My mom got it for me at a library booksale, a weathered and creased version, with the original Garth Williams illustrations. It got me hooked on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story, and I have since read all of her books in the series many times over (including now!). Laura was probably one of my first literary heroines. The Long Winter and the books rounding out the series are my favorites: Cap Garland! Town revivals! Almanzo’s Morgan horses!
  • Kindertransport and Clara’s Story: the first two books that I built a collection around of Holocaust stories, which I was fascinated by for years, especially after a trip to Germany at age 12.
  • Jane Austen: all of it. Read my post on her birthday here, and my own life lessons from her books here.
  • An Old-Fashioned Girl: my favorite Louisa May Alcott novel (yes, even over Little Women!). A sweet, good heroine, complete with a love story and a family’s plummet from rich to poor. Also, the introduction of the velocipede. I read it multiple times. Read my post on another one of Alcott’s books, a little-known “thriller.”
  • The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn: the book that sent me down the rabbit hole of the Tudor dynasty and the fascinating lives of Henry VIII’s court. Mostly historical fiction, but I’ve been diving into the non-fiction, too. Alison Weir does both well, and Philippa Gregory is always good for a scandal.
  • The Mitford books: I found this sweet series about a small-town pastor and his friends by Jan Karon quite by accident, but was absolutely taken by it. Less about believing in God, and more about believing in the beauty of friends, family, and love, these books are good for the soul.
  • Shakespeare: I read the requisite plays in high school, and some of his sonnets. But after taking a class in college and reading more of his work (Titus Andronicus, anyone?), I became more devoted. Favorites: Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III.
  • The Bregdan Chronicles: also originally known as The Richmond Chronicles (and the version I own), this historical romantic fiction series based before and during the Civil War is mostly out of print now, but the author is coming out with a new book.
  • Maniac Magee: a youth book I read a couple of times in elementary school about a young orphan boy on the run who makes an imprint in a racially divided town. There’s a kid called Mars Bar in it, and a lot of cake making. And running.
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (and its sister books): Rebecca Wells hit straight to my heart with these books about four Louisiana women growing up and raising their families together. Need I say more? The movie doesn’t do justice to the book.
  • Anne of Green Gables: I would be remiss to leave this series off the list. I read through these books so many times they are like a comfortable blanket. My favorites were always Anne of the Island and Rilla of Ingleside. I’m still looking for my own Gilbert Blythe.

I could go on forever. There are so many books and authors that I love, but this is just a little glimpse at what’s impacted me the most. You can also read my post on an ode to the books of our youth, with some contributions from friends.

How have books and reading impacted your life? What are some of your favorite books that have stuck with you over the years?

Six Life Lessons from Jane Austen

I’ve loved Jane Austen’s works since I first received “Emma” as a Christmas gift more than 20 years ago. But I only recently began reading essays and books on why we love her stories so much 200 years later, and what they mean to us on a personal level, beyond the basic lit class critiques.

I just finished reading “A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter” by William Deresiewicz. The author begins the book by explaining how when he began graduate school, he had never even glanced at one of Austen’s novels because he felt above them, and above her style. But when he had to read “Emma” in one professor’s class on 19th century English literature, his view of Austen, and himself, started to change.

Deresiewicz reads and rereads all six of Austen’s novels over the course of a few years of graduate school and even incudes a chapter in his dissertation. But even more important than learning to like Jane Austen and all of her heroines, he learned more about life, love, and literature than he ever imagined.

Although I thought the author could be a bit rambling and repetitive, each of the six core lessons he pulled from Austen’s works resonated with me, and I found they applied in my own life. They are as follows:

“Emma”

Many think the plot of one of Austen’s most popular novels, frequently translated into film, is lacking. But the author latches on to Austen’s ultimate goal to get people to pay attention to the little stories and happenings of the people in our lives, no matter how small and ordinary they may be.

Deresiewicz says, “She understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts, and what fills our hearts should fill our novels.” Instead of just focusing on the big milestones and events and drama, Austen encourages us to remember the small stuff and to talk about it, perhaps again and again, if that is what brings us closer to our community.

“To pay attention to ‘minute particulars’ is to notice your life as it passes, before it passes,” says the author, and of Emma, her father, and their best friends. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always valued the little things like snuggling on the couch with coffee and my dogs, frequent chats by phone with my parents, or hearing the “minute particulars” of small town life from my family in Louisiana.

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Happy birthday, Jane Austen

Circa 20 years ago, I received my first Jane Austen book, a copy of Emma, a Christmas gift from an aunt who knew of my passion for reading. At the time, even though I was already reading classics and other advancing literature, I thought perhaps it might be a little above my head. But I only let the book sit for about a year on my shelf before I couldn’t wait any longer, and promptly devoured it. I was hooked.

Next, I read Sense & Sensibility and then Pride & Prejudice. I followed that with Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and finally, Persuasion. I have loved Jane Austen before I had heard of Colin Firth, or before Keira Knightley became a star. I’ll admit something — I’ve never even seen the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, but I’ve read the book at least five times.

People always tout P&P as their favorite Austen novel, and for many, it is king among classic literature. But like many of the essayists in Why We Read Jane Austen, I agree that choosing your favorite Austen novel is akin to picking a favorite child, or for me, a favorite dog. It’s nearly impossible. If I’m forced, it would be P&P, but from there, there is a close tie between Mansfield Park and Emma.

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A whole new look at Louisa May Alcott

“…I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.”

So states the fair Rosamond in desperation, in the opening line of Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase. One of many manuscripts the author, best known for Little Women, wrote to help pay her family’s bills in the mid-1800s, the novel was considered so “sensational” it was not published until 1995.

A thriller from the writer who brought us the Marches, a semi-autobiographical classic that then led to follow-up novels in Little Men and Jo’s Boys? The same writer who penned heartwarming coming of age stories like An Old Fashioned Girl and Eight Cousins?

Yes! When I picked up this book at the library, I wasn’t sure what to expect, even though I’ve always loved Alcott. “Sensational” and “thriller” aren’t exactly adjectives that come to mind when I think of her writing, and as I read the book, I realized they also meant very different things in the 19th century than they do now.

The basic premise is a young girl trapped under her grandfather’s care on an island off of England. When one of her grandfather’s friends and pupil shows up one stormy night, Rosamond is enchanted by this supposed knight who promises to show her the freedom and adventures she desires, and take her away on his yacht. But little does she know that this man has a dark past, and it will rear up to cut her happiness short, leading to a chase around Europe as she searches for protection and friends, and he tries to win her back, through a mix of passion and devious pursuit.

Every time I thought things were about to be okay again, Alcott surprised me with another twist, so I couldn’t put the book down, and it took until the very end (spoiler alert: no happy ending here!) for the story to wrap up.

Now that I’ve read this, I’m interested in reading some of Alcott’s other works in this genre. It actually is fitting since when she first began writing stories for her and her sisters to perform, and later to sell, they were full of pirates and deceptive characters and dark romantic twists.

Has anyone else read A Long Fatal Love Chase? Are there other authors you like that have lesser-known works in a different genre that you liked or didn’t?

Next on my reading list: Alison Weir’s Captive Queen, a story of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II.