The best books we read in 2016

Janes

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

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I’ll be honest: I expected to hate Sons and Lovers. I wanted to finally read D.H. Lawrence for the first time, but a 19th century novel about a young man who is emotionally stunted by his overbearing mother sounded far too pseudo-Freudian for my taste. But I was surprised to find that within the first fifty pages, all of the characters were meticulously drawn at a nearly Jamesian level of psychological nuance, and that the “overbearing mother” was the most sympathetic and fascinating character of the piece. Sons and Lovers is, ostensibly, the story of a young man’s coming-of-age, but really, it’s a story about the fallibility of family bonds, in which they are as fragile yet sticky as strands in a spider web.

Acquired: at a flea market in Iceland, where Sons and Lovers was the only Lawrence novel they had. Continue reading →

A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Tess is just a humble milkmaid when the local landowner has his wicked way. Her new beau, the smarmy Angel Clare, is none too pleased when he finds out she’s already been deflowered. What is a girl to do? Bloody revenge of course, and an ending to touch the hardest of hearts.

Pulp! The Classics is an inspired idea. Who wouldn’t want to read irreverent re-tellings of classic literature that highlight their universal–and therefore, potentially lowbrow–themes? After all, with slightly different execution, Hamlet is just a revenge story, The Great Gatsby is just a crime thriller, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a forebear to Pineapple Express.

And maybe one could argue that this Tess of the D’Urbervilles cover proves a similar theorem: without Hardy’s sensitive and socially conscious artistry, Tess is nothing more than exploitative erotica. But this cover isn’t just oversimplifying the book’s themes, as the other covers in the series do; it’s actively (and offensively) reversing them. “She’s no angel”?? Tess is about a compassionate, highly moral young woman who is raped, loses her child, and is unfairly ostracized (and then executed) as a result of hypocritical Victorian sexual mores. The subtitle of the novel is “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.” It takes its name from “the D’Urbervilles”–the noble name Tess’ father vainly tries to appropriate for their family–rather than her actual name, Tess Durbeyfield, because she possesses nobility in spite of her social standing. The entire point of the book is that she is a goddamn angel, in all the ways that count.

Links We Loved This Week – 4/29/16

The AV Club wrote a fantastic article on how the Good Wife broke all the rules of TV legal dramas, and then broke itself. Also, the NYT did a great interview with Julianna Margulies and the Kings – though they got quickly shut down when they asked about Archie Panjabi!

Last week was Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday (read our piece on Villette here). Electric Literature ran an interesting piece (that we VEHEMENTLY disagree with) on rereading Jane Eyre and finding it somewhat less awesome.

 

We saw The Huntsman: Winter’s War last Friday. We were all really excited for it, and at least one of us was also pretty drunk, but we HATED it. Here are some takes from around the web:

Gizmodo says, “The fact that we get to see this pointless, silly movie made with an A-list cast… is one of the great marvels of our age.”

The Mary Sue laments that it’s “generic white male hero number eleventy five million.”

The Atlantic mourns the “bizarre camp classic that almost was.”

The best books we read in 2015

Janes:

The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James

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No one delves into a character’s psychology quite like Henry James, and in Isabel Archer, he found a protagonist more than worthy of his meticulous deconstruction. She’s a formidable intellectual who doesn’t see the value in intellectual pursuits, she’s an idealist who isn’t quite sure what her ideals are, she’s an independent who is completely and utterly controlled by the malignant, vicious people in her life. She has a complex, distinctive personality and an indomitable will, all of which is systematically broken down by a small man with “exquisite taste.” It’s as tragic as it is insightful, sensitively portraying the experience of patriarchal oppression through the eyes of a woman who is determined to “behave picturesquely.”

Acquired: through kht, who warned me I would relate to the protagonist to an uncomfortable extent. I’ve thrice been told that I am like Isabel Archer, once as a lament, once as a compliment [To be clear, this was me –kht], and once as a scathing criticism. Only a Henry James character could find so many different ways to be relatable to a real person’s life.

Continue reading →