Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellSusanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell breaks all the rules. It’s over 800 pages long. One of the title characters isn’t properly introduced until over 200 pages into the novel. Clarke develops the history of her world largely through incorporation of 185 footnotes. Generally any one of these things would cause me to gripe about a book, never mind all three. However, I’m not the first reviewer to say the novel, even at over 800 pages, seems too short—I wanted more. The late introduction of the charismatic Jonathan Strange serves only to further develop the mystery surrounding him and to establish the character of his counterpart—his teacher and rival—Mr. Norrell. And finally, the footnotes establish Clarke’s alternate history England as a world rich in magic and still every bit as real as our own world.

“Two magicians shall appear in England…”

The Learned Society of York Magicians, theoretical magicians, mind, not practical magicians, is confronted by Gilbert Norrell and forced to disband. Norrell, who has led a reclusive life of study in his library at Hurtfew Abbey in York, is suddenly thrust into London society. Eager to be of assistance to the government in the war against France, he makes an unwise alliance. Eventually, he gains a pupil in Jonathan Strange, but the two magicians part ways. Jonathan Strange delves into darker and more dangerous magic, while Norrell is unable to to see the dangers right under his own nose.

The book ties each strand of its storylines together in the ending, which will not satisfy all readers, but which I liked—the door is open for a sequel, or not, as Clarke wishes. Clarke evokes the characterization of Dickens, the storytelling of Austen, and the Romantic sensibilities of Byron (who appears as a character himself), all of which combine to create a book that seems wholly new and fresh—certainly unlike anything I’ve ever read before. This novel is obviously a commitment, but it pays off well in the end.

I listened to this book on audio, and Simon Prebble’s narration is wonderful. I love the distinct voices he gives to the characters. If I have any complaint, it is only that he changes the voice of Christopher Drawlight near the end and mispronounces the word sidhe. Minor quibbles in an excellent audio adaptation.

I read this novel for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, but it also makes the fifth book for the Typically British Reading Challenge.

Kindle TBR Pile

Most avid readers I know have a TBR (to be read) pile. I mostly keep my TBR pile on Goodreads. I sometimes remember to put these books on my Amazon Wishlist. I have recently acquired a Kindle, and my department at school gave me an Amazon gift card in honor of my being selected as the Georgia Council of Teachers of English (GCTE) Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Since purchasing my Kindle, I have downloaded several books, all now in my TBR pile.

HornsContested Will

Medieval LivesThe Dream of Perpetual Motion

I really added Horns at Steve’s request, as he has been wanting to read it, but it has received good reviews, and I think I’ll eventually check it out, too.

I think I first heard about Contested Will via Twitter, but I’m not sure if it was @shakespearetav or @madshakespeare. I’m reading A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro, the author of Contested Will, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I see the anti-Stratfordians have begun panning Contested Will in Amazon reviews.

I have long enjoyed Terry Jones’s take on medieval history. Many people don’t know it, but Jones is a medieval scholar with a degree in English from Oxford. He has a gift for bringing history alive with humor, and I always enjoy whatever he does. Medieval Lives has been on my Amazon Wishlist for ages, so I finally purchased it.

I found out about The Dream of Perpetual Motion via Mad Shakespeare, which is a clever blog that you should be reading if you are a Shakespeare fan. This novel is a steampunk version of Shakespeare’s late romance The Tempest. I have never tried steampunk before, but I have tried books with elements of steampunk, such as Stardust. I was dithering about whether to download this book when @paulwhankins, who created a wonderful introduction to steampunk using LiveBinders, said it was good. That was enough for me.

I also found a good deal on three novels from the Brontë sisters on Kindle for $0.99. I haven’t read anything by Anne Brontë, and this collection affords me the opportunity not only to add an additional Brontë novelist to my TBR pile, but also to have my favorite novel (Wuthering Heights) and Jane Eyre at my fingertips wherever I go. The collection comes with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey. If I can, as we say down here in the South, “get off the stick” and read it, I might finish it in time to include it as part of the All About the Brontës Challenge.


I have been saving funds earned as an Amazon affiliate to purchase a Kindle, and if you have visited recently, you may have caught my post about whether to buy a Kindle or a Nook. I settled on a Kindle after doing the research. The iPad is far outside of my price range for a e-book reader. I purchased the Kindle, but I had to wait some time before it shipped, and I’m not sure of the reason.

The Kindle arrived on Dylan’s birthday (April 16). Steve unboxed it before I could get home from work, but I took some pictures of the Kindle.

I bought a cover for the Kindle, and I’m happy I did. I’m not sure how I’d have kept it safe otherwise. The Kindle all snug in its cover looks like a nice Moleskine notebook.

KindleHere’s a picture of the opened cover. The buttons are small but easier to use than the iPhone keyboard. Navigation didn’t take very long to learn.

KindleThe Kindle changes the display on the screen when you put it in sleep mode. Most of the images have been of authors, like this one of Mark Twain, but I have also seen what looked like an illuminated manuscript.

I already ran into an issue when I tried to download my textbook for Educational Research onto my Kindle. I already have it on my Kindle for iPhone and for Mac. Well, I kept receiving a message that said the book could not be downloaded onto my device. I did a search online and discovered this problem can be traced back to the publisher who most likely set the number of times the book could be downloaded onto a device very low. It figures a textbook author would do that. I don’t blame Amazon for that issue; it’s the textbook company.

I have been happy with the Kindle so far. I checked out some of the free books, but I’m not sure what to download. It’s all so overwhelming right now.

I know a lot of the romantics think I’ve committed heresy, but I will say this. I love reading. Period. Books, e-readers, online (although reading books online is very hard for me). It doesn’t matter to me. I’m sure there were folks who romanticized manuscripts when the printing press was invented and books came into being. The book’s run is not over, and I have not defected to the other side. I have simply added a tool that will allow me to read books more easily on the go. I just don’t understand why it has to be an either/or prospect.

Multiple Copies

Emma’s recent comment on my review of The Annotated Pride and Prejudice inspired this post. I don’t own multiple copies of many books, but I do own multiple copies of a few. Perhaps it is telling in terms of my literary interests?

I own two copies of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The image on the left is the US cover of the novel, and the reason I have a copy of that edition is that I use it to teach the novel. The image on the right, which is my favorite of the two, is the UK edition, which my friend Roger sent me.

I have three editions of Wuthering Heights. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite book, but it might be Wuthering Heights. Certainly it’s safe to say it’s one of my favorites based on the number of copies I own.

Wuthering Heights, Norton Critical EditionWuthering Heights, Barnes and Noble Classics SeriesWuthering Heights audiobook

I have the Norton Critical Edition for teaching. It includes a variety of lit. crit. articles and reviews. I think it might be most appropriate for college studies, but I use it with my high school students, too. I am not a fan of the Norton typeface, and neither are my students. I especially like Emily Brontë’s diary, which is included in this text. The edition to its right is the Barnes and Noble classics series edition. I love the pink cover and the beautiful image on the cover (Weymouth Bay by John Constable). This edition is the first one I read. It is directed at high school students, I think, and it has really good footnotes, a list of famous quotations from the novel (with page references),  Charlotte Brontë’s preface to the 1850 edition, an introduction by Daphne Merkin and notes on the Yorkshire dialect by Tatiana M. Holway, and a good family tree in the front. For some inexplicable reason, the Norton edition, which throws in everything but the kitchen sink, does not have a family tree. I don’t know how to keep track of the characters in Wuthering Heights without a family tree. The third edition I own is the audiobook as narrated by Janet McTeer and David Timson. Janet McTeer has actually played Nelly Dean before. Both actors do a masterful job with the text, McTeer of course reading the parts narrated by Nelly Dean, and Timson the parts narrated by Lockwood. I have every intention of buying an edition for my Kindle (I am just settling on the right one). *Yes, I bought a Kindle after doing the research on Kindles, Nooks, and iPads, and I will post about it, soon.* I also really want a paper copy of this edition because I’m in love with the cover:

Wuthering Heights Penguin Edition

Here is the full image, front and back:

Ruben Toledo Wuthering Heights cover

Click on the image to see a larger version. Gorgeous, right?

I also own two editions of Pride and Prejudice: the annotated edition Emma described as her favorite (mine, too), and the Bantam Classics edition, which was the first edition I read.

The Annotated Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice, Bantam Classics

The cover of The Annotated Pride and Prejudice is actually a drawing of Austen’s niece, Fanny Knight. Bantam‘s cover painting is Miss Rosamond Croker by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

There was a time when I didn’t mind mass market paperbacks at all. Over the last few years, I have decided I don’t like them much, and I don’t know whether to attribute it to older age and failing eyesight or the fact that mass markets crowd too many words on the page, too closely together, which just doesn’t make for as pleasant a reading experience as a trade paperback or hardcover. For a mass market, the BN edition of Wuthering Heights is pretty nice, and the words aren’t too crowded, but the Bantam edition of P&P—well, the Bantam edition of anything, really—seems more crowded. I actually stopped reading my Bantam edition of Persuasion because it was too hard on my eyes and took up reading the book on Stanza on my iPhone.

I have two editions of Persuasion, too. The Bantam edition I just mentioned and an audiobook version I won from Austenprose. I haven’t listened to the audiobook yet, but I am excited to do so. I’m not sure whether Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility is my second favorite Austen novel. Maybe they’re tied. Nah. Sense and Sensibility is second. But I do love Persuasion, and I especially love Captain Wentworth’s letter. I deleted Persuasion from my iPhone after I finished it to save space. I wouldn’t necessarily do that on my Kindle because I only intend to have books on the Kindle, but my iPhone has all my music and tons of other apps, too.

The only other books I own multiple copies of are the Harry Potter series. I have multiple copies of these books for several reasons:

  1. I have read some of them so many times I literally wore them out and had to replace them.
  2. We couldn’t share books when they were first released because we all wanted to read them (we have multiple copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
  3. I really wanted the tenth anniversary edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I have to say the paper feels very nice, and the cover is gorgeous.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Which books do you own multiple copies of and why? Please share in the comments.

Crime and Punishment

Crime and PunishmentThough I wasn’t due to finish Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment via DailyLit until next week, I decided to go ahead and finish today. I really wanted to like this book. It’s one of those books you hear a lot about. It’s one of those books people like to say they’ve read. I should preface this review by saying that I’ve read very few Russian classics. I tried to read Dr. Zhivago; my sister Lara is named after Yuri Zhivago’s love interest. I couldn’t get into it, even though I loved the movie. I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (review), and I really didn’t like it all that much, although I found the concept intriguing.

The central character of Crime and Punishment is Raskolnikov, a student in St. Petersburg who murders a pawn broker and her sister with an axe. Most of the book centers around his mental state both before and after the crime. I had a great deal of difficulty with the names. Some of the characters have nicknames, which made it nearly impossible for me to keep up with the characters. I’m sure this is purely a cultural-based confusion because if a character in a book were named William but variously called Will, Willie, or Bill by other characters, I doubt I’d have trouble. However, in a book with names that are already challenging for me to keep straight, I found myself quickly confused, and I think that confusion hampered my enjoyment of the novel. I might have done better to read a version with more notes. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the end result is that I’ve been put off Dostoyevsky. I’m not sure I’d want to try another book of his after not enjoying this one, especially when I think about the large number of books in the world I could read instead that I might truly enjoy. I found parts of the book compelling—the murder scene, Svidrigailov’s death, a fight among some of the women (whose characters I confess I had the most difficulty keeping straight) in the middle of the book, and the end—but these moments were few. Most of the book I found hard to get through both because of my confusion and because the story was not grabbing my interest. I had already reached what I call “the point of no return” before I decided I didn’t like the book. The “point of no return” is the point at which you’ve read so far into the book that you feel you should just go ahead and finish. I really, really wanted to like this book, which is why I pushed myself up to that point. When I realized I didn’t like it, I felt sad. I have so rarely been disappointed by classics.

My next novel from DailyLit will be Gulliver’s Travels, a much shorter novel, and one I have neglected. I was supposed to have read it in high school, but I found it difficult to understand at that age. I think I will enjoy it better twenty years on from the last time I tried to pick it up. It’s a British book, which will enable me to continue to the next level in the Typically British Challenge.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and PrejudiceI first read Pride and Prejudice during my first year teaching (which was 1997-1998, and I know it was 1998 when I read the novel). I fell in love with Jane Austen that year. Despite my affection for Ms. Austen, I had not re-read any of her novels, though I have watched adaptations in film. I decided I was overdue for a re-read of Pride and Prejudice, and this annotated version of the novel appealed to the scholar in me. I had hoped to learn some new interesting things or gain new insights from the David Shapard’s annotations, and I was not disappointed.

In some cases, the annotations were repetitive (for example, for each reference to “town,” Shapard reminds the reader that “town” refers to London). However, learning the differences between the different types of carriages, gaining insight into the conventions of the day, and so much more that I can’t possibly list it all here really enhanced my enjoyment of the book. I am currently listening to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and I find that the annotations in Pride and Prejudice have enhanced my enjoyment of that novel, too—after all, it owes a great deal to Jane Austen. A sojourn in Jane Austen’s novels is always rewarding, and I wonder if it’s possible to feel homesick for a place you’ve never even been except in books.

If you haven’t seen the new blog Following Jane, you might want to check it out. It’s interesting to read the perspectives of man dedicating himself to reading all of Jane Austen’s novels and blogging about his experiences. In a recent post written before he started Northanger Abbey, his first selection, he mentioned he was anxious to finish the book he had been reading at the time so that he could start reading Austen. I know that feeling. As I reach the end of the book, my thoughts are turning toward my next read, which will be A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro. All the talk about Shapiro’s new book, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, has inspired quite a lot of quick reviews of A Year in the Life, which I have on my shelf and haven’t read. Austen and Shakespeare, my two favorite authors. How I’d love to sit down and have tea with them both.

Typically British Challenge

Pride and Prejudice is my fourth selection for the Typically British Challenge, and concludes the “Gordon Bennett” level of four novels that I committed to read. I may read other British authors over the course of the year (the challenge expires on December 31), but I can claim for the first time ever that I actually finished a reading challenge.

Kindle versus Nook

Kindle or Nook?

Kindle versus Nook

I want an e-book device, but I have decided that an iPad is definitely out of my price range. I don’t like rushing out and buying a new gadget because it seems as though it always has some kinks that need to be ironed out, and sure enough, I’ve been reading about problems with wifi and temperature issues in the iPad. I waited until the second generation to purchase an iPhone. I have been extremely happy with my iPhone. The iPad is an awfully pretty device, like most Apple products, but until it’s less expensive and I know more about what it can do for me, I’m afraid an iPad is not an option.

I am an Amazon Associate, as you may know if you visit regularly. I earn a tiny bit on each Amazon sale conducted as a result of visitors purchasing items linked to from this site. I’m not entirely sure how it works because sometimes I earn commissions based on items I know I never linked to. I guess if a person buys one item I linked to and adds other items to his/her cart, I earn a commission on those items, too. I have opted to be paid in Amazon gift certificates. I have saved about $100 in Amazon gift certificates and had planned to save enough (or nearly enough) to buy a Kindle. Now I’m wondering if I should just spend my gift certificates on something else and save for a Nook.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison based on my research:

Feature Kindle Nook
Price $259 $259
Weight 10.2 oz. 12.1 oz.
Size 8″ x 5.3″ x 0.36″ 7.5″ x 4.9″ x 0.5″
Available titles “Over 450,000”
+ 1.8 million out-of-copyright books
“Over a million”
Storage 1,500 books 1,500 books
Expandable microSDslot for more memory
ePub? No Yes
PDF? Yes Yes
Audible Yes No
Battery life Up to two weeks
(with wireless off)
Up to ten days
(with wireless off)
Free samples? Yes Yes
Lending? No Yes
Wireless? Yes Yes
3G? Yes Yes
Sync across devices? Yes Yes
Screen rotation? Manual No
Browser? Yes No
Yes Yes
Library eBooks? No Yes
Text to Speech? Yes No
Keyboard Physical Touchscreen
Content Returns? Yes, within 7 days of purchase Cannot be determined (assume no)
Return device? Yes, within 30 days Yes, within 14 days
10% restocking fee

Even though the two readers have many similarities, I think I have to give the edge to the Kindle. The browser and access to Wikipedia would be excellent additions to the reading experience (if you like to look up information in references, as I do). It would be nice to have access to library ebooks and to lend and borrow books to others, but both of these features can be turned off by publishers. The limited storage on the Kindle compared with the Nook doesn’t bother me; 1,500 books is a lot. I don’t really care about having text-to-speech, but it might help if I want to know how a word is pronounced. I prefer physical keyboards to touchscreen. I don’t know if I’m bothered by the fact that Kindle doesn’t support ePub because I don’t know enough about the issue. I love my Audible books, however, and Kindle supports Audible books. On the other hand, with the Nook, I can buy books from sellers other than Amazon; the Kindle locks users into using Amazon. Of course, that doesn’t bother me much as I mainly shop for books from Amazon anyway. The Nook is prettier than the Kindle, but I think I’m going to go with the Kindle. As a bonus, I can potentially pay nothing for a Kindle if I can keep saving through my referral fees.

If you have a Kindle or Nook, what are your thoughts about your device?

Update, 5/8/10: Consumer Reports’ Electronics Blog has a run-down of Kindle versus iPad. The iPad’s cost put it out of the running for me.

Image credit: Thought by AndrewIs

2010 Once Upon a Time Challenge

Once Upon a Time Challenge

2010 Once Upon a Time ChallengeI always love Carl’s challenges, even though I don’t often finish them. I am participating in his Once Upon a Time Challenge; I’m committing only to the Journey, as I am in grad school (huge time-suck), and I’m already participating in other challenges (of course, this one may overlap).

Perhaps it’s cheating, but I plan to finish Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for this challenge. I think I began it maybe four days before the challenge began, but honestly, the dates are so close, and the book is so long, that I feel it should count. In addition, this particular book fits the requirements of the challenge perfectly.

I am more than 20 chapters into the audio book at this point. Simon Prebble is the reader, and he captures the dialogue very well. Listening to him reminds me why I like being read to so much. Clarke’s style reminds me a great deal of Jane Austen’s, and I can think of no higher compliment. Particularly interesting is the way Clarke manages to convince the reader that magic is and has long been completely normal in Britain. It’s not quite alternative history à la Jasper Fforde, but it’s very satisfying, and I have a feeling that once I’ve reached the end of the novel, I will have thoroughly enjoyed it.