Exploring where life and story meet!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Strange bedfellows

Upon our recent vacation, I had the chance to read five books given me by a certain literary sister, and after perusing them, I thought it would be great fun to review them.  Four of the books were written by Georgette Heyer and were my first introduction to that lady's work.  The other was called, 'Shh, We Have a Plan' by Chris Haughton.  What do four regency romance novels have to do with a child's board book?  Absolutely nothing!  Which is what makes this review so much fun.

I am a huge Jane Austen fan; I enjoy all her books, but Pride and Prejudice is by far my favorite.  I have read various sequels and adaptations over the years, but nothing has come close, a most are downright pathetic.  Georgette Heyer is assumed by many to be Austen's heir and has written over 40 books, many taking place during the Regency period of England in which Austen's books are set.  This was my first exposure to her work; I've seen her books around, indeed they are ubiquitous, but I never bothered to pick one up.  My sister loaned me four of her favorites and I actually had a little time on our trip, so why not?

Heyer is a gifted writer, there are some very amusing scenes, intriguing characters, interesting plots, and the dialogue is upbeat, at least in the first book.  The problem is, all of her books are the same!  I won't bother listing the titles as it really doesn't matter.  She has basically boiled Pride and Prejudice down to its constituent parts then fleshes out the bare bones with slightly varying details, but it quickly grows old and none of her books are of the same caliber as Austen's classic.  They are an amusing, fluffy read on vacation, but nothing I am going to put on my shelf to read over again.

Heyer in a nutshell: a rich, fashionable man, bored and cynical of women in particular and life in general (he must dress perfectly, wear very shiny hessian boots, have an immaculate neckcloth, and drive a team to precision) meets a comely lady, who is the only female on the planet not out to win his hand.  He is intrigued by said damsel, or perhaps by the novelty of a woman not immediately in love with him, and they fall into some sort of scrape or adventure together and he eventually proposes. She must inevitably refuse his offer of marriage at least once because she cannot imagine he actually loves her.  After about 10 more pages, the misunderstanding is corrected and she accepts him and the book ends.  The heroine of course must be virtuous, intrepid, and have an arch sense of humor, but she is not grasping nor does she think very highly of herself, yet she must be confident and just in her dealings with all others.

Strange as it may sound, some of my favorite books are actually composed of fewer than 10 pages and 100 words.  I had a few favorite books from my childhood but was in no way a connoisseur of children's literature, but now having kids means I get a second chance to peruse this oft overlooked genre.  I was delighted by Sandra Boynton and enjoy many of the 'Little Critter' books immensely, though I am having second thoughts about Dr. Seuss in my waning years.  Many children's books are either dull or focused too much on educational matters or are dumbed down to the point of insult; a good children's story is none of these.  This little book was absolutely delightful!

The long and the short of it: we'll be reading 'Shh, We Have a Plan,' for years to come.  If you've read one Heyer regency romance, you've read them all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On inconveniences and adventures

~An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.
 An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.~  
~G.K. Chesterton~

I was supposed to be learning about highly important, scientific type things, instead I took home something far more profound, or at least sort of interesting.  It was one of those conferences where you don't dare address anyone as 'doctor' or else you'll have fifty people suddenly looking expectantly in your direction; where you cram 87 hours of learning into three days and wonder why your brain hurts so much you don't even bemoan the fact that even though you are in Florida or Guam, you don't have time to enjoy the tourist attractions because you have to go home tomorrow and spent the entire trip in a dark, freezing room staring at a screen whereon a can of alphabet soup exploded.  Most of my continuing education requirements must be of a scientific or medical nature, but they let you slip in a few 'general' hours now and again, I think merely to spare our sanity.  This particular lecture happened to deal with the nature of happiness and it was rather fascinating.  What struck me were the things on the list that did or did not correlate with happiness, most especially children.  Apparently, in general, married people are happier but people with kids aren't.  That struck me as rather odd.  But then there is that scary blog written by despairing mothers everywhere, maybe I'm a statistical anomaly or maybe we moderns just have this whole kid thing backwards, much like G.K's quote above.

I'm not saying kids are easy, but life is sure more 'full' once they come into your life; they somehow round out or complete your family in a way that can't be put into words.  Maybe it is because suddenly, there is someone in the world who is (or should be) more important than you, and it is in doing things that are meaningful that we find happiness, or so the speaker assured us.  Maybe our problem is, similar to our warped expectations of marriage, that we wrongly expect kids to somehow automatically fulfill or complete us: they are a possession or a status symbol, no different than a pet or a car, and we resent them when they interfere with our idea of a 'good life.'  They will spill spaghetti on your plush, white carpet.  They will 'urp' all over your favorite blouse.  And you can't sell them or take them to the humane society when they become inconvenient.  But as G.K. so magnificently points out: inconveniences are merely overlooked adventures.  Are they annoying, loud, disrespectful, and stubborn, of course!  But then, so are you, and every other human on the planet. We also forget that they are fun, hilarious, sweet, and adventurous, and with a little luck, some of that might just rub off on their parents.

As I said goodbye to my son this morning, he said something that both thrilled and broke my heart, it was simply, 'come back.'  To most people that might not be a big deal, but growing up in a home where I was neither loved nor wanted, it was the most wonderful thing in the world.  I was needed, I was wanted, I was loved, I had a home at last!  I think G.K. was right, and the world would be a whole lot happier if we took his advice.  Who knows, kids might just be the biggest adventure of all!   

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

There and back again

That which we most desire is that from which we are most fervently fleeing; we spend our whole lives looking for the one thing we thought to leave behind when we went out to see what life holds for us.  What is this mysterious, most desired of objects?  This terrifying yet wonderful thing?  Every human heart, above all else yearns for Home.  Not a certain house or condominium, not a specific country or city, but rather that place, be it cave or mansion, wherein we are accepted and loved for who we are (not what we have done or will do) and can be ourselves without fear.  But it is the one thing modern society most abhors, for therein we cannot bow any longer before the sacred shrine of Me, but must rather consort and fraternize with others, sometimes sacrificing our immediate wants and desires for the good and benefit of others, as they in turn do on occasion for us.  But fear not, modern convenience has done away with all such necessity.  Just turn on your 'device' and enter a world away from the dull and demanding plebs that make up your immediate household; join your virtual family and ignore those of flesh and blood.

Your virtual friends understand, they like you for who you are, they speak your language, they never ask you to clean your room or turn down your music, that's what a family should be!  Except, when you need them most, when that moment of crisis or grief or tragedy comes unexpectedly upon you, where are they?  It is a tale older than the internet, older even than the printing press, old as man himself.  We think we know better, we think the world holds something better for us, and we do need to leave home one day and establish our own life, but it won't look anything like the one I had growing up, no sir!  It will be different, it will be better: exciting, interesting, I'll do whatever I want when I want!  And after all our wanderings and failed experiments and dead ends, eventually we come to the strange realization that what we thought we wanted we don't really want after all and what we truly desire most we already had but left it scornfully behind us.  Such is the tale of lost Eden and the Prodigal Son; it is the whole history of Israel and of man himself.

There is a pattern for human happiness and thriving, eventually the wanderer does come stumbling home in the dead of night after much misery, disappointment, and sorrow, and knows he would have been wiser to have stayed there in the first place.  But our hearts yearn after something and we go forth seeking it, only to find it is nothing this world can provide and that it must come to us, and may well do so with never so reckless a faring forth, if only we are wise enough to hear its whispered call.