Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable CreaturesWhen I was a little girl, I loved dinosaurs. It might be I don’t remember things correctly, but I don’t remember dinosaurs being all that cool when I was a kid. Mrs. Jones taught us about the Trachodon in first grade, the first day of our unit on dinosaurs. I was hooked. The first “chapter” book I ever read was called Prehistoric Monsters Did the Strangest Things. As an accurate dinosaur book, it probably wasn’t very good, but I was fascinated by it. The book was part of a series on animals. I remember clearly that the chapter about Mary Anning’s discovery was titled “What Mary Found.” She wore a pink dress and a white mob cap over her blond curls. I was entranced by the idea of finding a real fossil, just like Mary Anning. Many years later, I still remember much of what I learned, and while my fascination with dinosaurs waned with time, I couldn’t resist picking up a novel about Mary Anning.

Remarkable Creatures is the story of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, women who paved the way for a great deal of scientific discovery in an age when women weren’t even allowed to join the scientific societies that celebrated their discoveries. Mary and Elizabeth come from two very different classes: Mary’s family is poor, working class, while Elizabeth is solidly middle class. Theirs is an unlikely friendship established over their shared fascination with fossils of the remarkable creatures they find on the beach at Lyme Regis. The novel explores their complicated relationship with each other and with the men of science who take credit for their discoveries.

Chevalier brought the setting of Lyme Regis alive, the beaches teeming with fossil ammonites and belemnites. The reader can feel the sea spray and the hard rock holding the fossils fast until they are released by Mary’s skilled hands. Her attention to detail is precise. I could see the layout of Morley Cottage, where the three Philpot sisters lived as well as if I had been there. If you’ve read Girl with a Pearl Earring or Chevalier’s other books, you know she’s a thorough researcher. Chevalier managed to bring these fossil hunters alive for me—they are my kindred spirits. Some of the male characters seem to run together, and I found them hard to distinguish from one another and perhaps not as fully realized, but I think that was most likely Chevalier’s aim.

I am not sure this book qualifies for the Typically British Challenge, as Chevalier is an American living in England and writing about England, but not an English writer herself, so I’ve elected not to count it. I am, however, tagging the post with my Jane Austen tag because the book mentions her and her visit to Lyme Regis as well as Persuasion, which is set there.

Rating: ★★★★★

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.


I need to begin this review by stating that I love Jane Austen. I had tried to read Persuasion twice before this final successful attempt. I think perhaps some books are suited to digesting in small bites. I admit when I feel I’m not making progress in a book, I sometimes put it aside for books that I think I might tear through. It doesn’t necessarily mean I am not enjoying the book so much as that I feel I’m not reading it quickly enough. This problem may be unique to me, but the solution has been to read the types of books I need to read slowly either in DailyLit or my iPhone.

I had stalled in Persuasion yet again some months back right about chapter 19. I liked it, and I really wanted to finish it. I recently decided to download it to my iPhone and read it in Stanza. Being able to read it in the dark and in bits on my iPhone enabled me to finish this book at last. I had already seen the movie, so I knew how things would end for Anne and Captain Wentworth. I enjoyed the penultimate chapter in which Captain Wentworth gives Anne the famous letter. The scene as acted in the 1995 production of Persuasion is what influenced me to pick up the book in the first place.

Anne is an excellent heroine: smart, kind, and thoughtful. I liked her much better than Emma or even Catherine Morland. I also liked the book’s message that true love lasts, and we can have second chances at happiness. I liked the other characters, too. Jane Austen is a deft skewer of social pretentiousness, and her Sir Walter Elliot was an excellent example of that sort who lives above his means and thinks he’s more important than he is.

This novel also highlights options available to women in the early nineteenth century. If Anne had remained unmarried, she would have been bound to spend the rest her of life with her family, who didn’t value her and whose company she tolerated rather than enjoyed. Certainly women who remained unmarried during this time had few options. Austen even insinuates that Anne might not have much choice but to marry her cousin, William Elliot, should her family wish it.  Anne struggles to say apart from William Elliot towards the end of the novel in order to avoid a marriage with him.

One thing I’ve always admired about Jane Austen novels is that she gives the reader a satisfying ending, making her characters happy. It feels good to close a Jane Austen novel because one can rest in the knowledge that the characters lived on and were happy. I suppose some might believe that’s unrealistic or trite, but it feels wonderful to escape into that world, which ultimately is one of the reasons I read books.

Free Audio Book: Persuasion

Through the Internet Archive’s audio offerings, I found LibriVox has a free audio version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which some of you might remember I’m currently reading.  The reader is Moira Fogarty.

Visit the site to download the book, or check out this embedded version:

Breaking Dawn: I Need Junk Food

The subtitle of my post refers to my current need to read something light and fun that I don’t have to think about too hard.  And Breaking Dawn has just been released.  One of my students has been after me to read it already, so I’m running out right now and buying it.  I still want to finish Persuasion and Who Murdered Chaucer? However, as I inferred, my brain is fried, and I need to take a break from the serious reading.

Speaking of Persuasion, it strikes me as I read that my favorite parts of Austen’s books often involve her most annoying characters: Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bates, the Thorpes, and now Mary (Anne Elliot’s whiny sister).  She just cracks me up.

I have had good response to a query about a book club at work, so perhaps my quest to find grown up with whom I can discuss literature may be fulfilled soon.

See you on the other side of the latest vampire romance.  Oh, and as usual, blogging will be light due to the fact that I return for my Master’s degree on Monday, and I’m already so busy with work that I’m wondering how that will work out.  Wish me luck and send good time management vibes in my direction.

Well, I’m Persuaded… To Read Another Austen Novel

I spent this morning watching Becoming Jane, and even though I know I might get my Janeite card taken away for saying this, I liked it.  Oh, I know it’s inaccurate, but it made for a good story.  Of course, I just love watching Austen-related movies because of the clothes.  I was surely born at the wrong time.  Take a look at some of the stills in this movie.

I just love, love, love Jane Austen.  At this point, I have read all but two of her novels: Persuasion and Mansfield Park.  I have started Persuasion twice and set aside for reasons I can’t remember.  I suspect it might be partly due to the fact that I’ve seen the excellent adaptation starring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds.  I loved that movie, and it didn’t surprise me when I took a recent quiz and discovered Anne Elliot is the Austen heroine I am most like.  I felt that when I watched the movie, too.  Still, it’s shameful not to have finished the book, and I am turning back to it again.  I plan to read Mansfield Park as well, but I’m not sure when.  I’m definitely due for re-reads of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

I love immersing myself in her world, and if you do, too, you might check out Jane Austen’s World and Austen Blog.  Of course, there are many more wonderful Jane Austen’s blogs in their blogrolls, too, but I have to get going and that means I need to wrap up this post.