Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Jane Austen's Novels Ranked

I have read all of Jane Austen's novels every year for as long as I can remember. But I've never sat down and ranked them before.  For what it's worth, my list is below.  And if you google her novels ranked you will see a wide variety in how the 6 novels are placed.  Turns out there's a Jane Austen novel for everyone.  Not that I ever doubted that!

6. Northanger Abbey
Considered to be a parody of the Gothic novel (more the latter half of the book) that was all the rage during Austen's time and of which Jane herself loved.  It is also one of the books where she interjects into the story with her opinion in what is happening the most.

Northanger Abbey follows Catherine Morland, a young girl who spends time with friends in Bath and is introduced to a Mr. Tilney and his sister.  She also becomes good friends with a woman who is in love with her brother and who just happens to have a brother, a Mr. Thorpe, who appears to have fallen for Catherine herself.   Mr. Thorpe is one of my least favorite characters in any Austen book. He will drive you insane as he tries to impress Catherine basically by lying, giving false comments and trying to wreck her other plans with people if it interferes with what he wants. Catherine's naivete about life will also drive you slightly bonkers, which I think is another reason I dislike Mr. Thorpe- he prays upon her naivete, but she at least grows more sure of herself as the book goes on.

The story goes on and starts to focus on events that happen at Northanger Abbey, and it is here where the book is really influenced by Gothic literature.  For those who have read The Mysteries of Udolpho, you will catch a lot more than perhaps many readers.  Catherine's mind wanders with events, jumps to conclusions and makes a very serious faux pas that she thinks could forever wreck her happiness.

One of my favorite Jane Austen quips is in this book.  I adore Austen's sarcasm and how witty she truly is in her novels:  "A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."  Austen's work is filled with gems like this.  In my opinion, Emma the most but it's hard to pass up the above quote.

Overall, I feel like Austen tries too hard in this book to write like the Gothic novelists of her time. And that somehow the book just doesn't quite fit with the tone of the others.

5. Mansfield Park
Consistently ranked as Jane Austen's least popular book.  Definitely due to the fact that Fanny Price has to be the least likable out of all of Jane Austen's main characters.  The girl is quiet, mousy, needs to rest after 15 minutes of walking and appears to not have a backbone.  A far cry from an Elizabeth Bennett.  A far cry even from the antagonist of Fanny Price, Miss Crawford, where despite her obvious shallowness and inappropriateness, we like her better than Fanny.

However, if you research critical reviews of Mansfield Park you will find a very different story. Turns out that MP might just be Austen's boldest book ever.  It's blatantly (for early 19th century writing) filled with sexual references, including one on homosexuality, addresses, albeit it more vaguely, slavery, and shows a vast difference in how one's birth affects their life.

For example, the Bertram girls (Fanny's cousins) can basically do no wrong, including flirt in front of their affianced and suffer no consequences, the adults look the other way, but Fanny is yelled at for sitting on a couch too long.

Fanny was sent to live with her cousins at age 10 as a charity case from her aunts who felt guilty about the fact that Fanny's mother married poor, had a whole bunch of kids, and basically can't care for them all.  The majority of the story follows Fanny at 18 as she pines away for her cousin, Edmund Betram, who has fallen in love with Miss Crawford.  Henry Crawford, Miss Crawford's brother, wreaks havoc on the Bertram girls as well as trying to do so with Fanny.

It is essentially a story about two very different classes of people, Fanny, and everyone else she interacts with.  Fanny cannot afford to be opinionated and carefree like an Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennett.  She is there at the grace of her family who could do away with her if ever she displeased them.

While the book can be infuriating, or more precisely Fanny, when you stop and rethink of the story from a class perspective, how you think of the book changes.  It is interesting how she is basically the only person in the story with morals (other than Edmund but he gets captivated by Miss Crawford). And while this drives a lot of people crazy, don't you find it interesting that we are going bonkers over Fanny's morality instead of everyone else's indiscretions and poor choices?

I happen to really enjoy the book despite Fanny's obvious flaws.  I even contemplated placing it above Emma.  For a seriously-above-my-intelligence-level critical analysis that is long but very fascinating, go here. It may not make you love the story more, but it may make you see just how courageous Jane Austen was, especially given that many of her age said she was essentially all fluff and nonsense.  

4. Emma
This book gives me feelings of love and hate.  Emma as a person will drive you crazy.  Proud, always thinking she's right and sometimes just downright rude.  Austen herself called Emma a heroine that no one else would probably like.  And don't even get me started on Mr. Knightly.  How can someone so correct and right in everything else (I may just have a little bit of a literary crush!) possibly fall in love with Emma?!  Not to mention their 16 year age difference....  I enjoy Emma because of the complexities of thought that come out in Austen's writings.  Some of the best one liners ever are in this book.  And this book particularly is praised by critics for Austen taking normal, mundane, everyday life and building a fairly masterful piece around it.  But it's not at the top of  my list because as wonderful as it is, you really just want to smack her.  Repeatedly.  It also takes about 1/3 of a fairly considerable novel to bring in a character who then affects the rest of the book. Sometimes it is unnecessarily long.  Some have said that it is a book where nothing really happens. All the other good stuff in the book (and there's a lot of it) just can't compensate for it.  Do I think you should read it?  Yes, but you probably won't be reaching for this one to reread for a while.  This is definitely a book that you have to be "in the mood" to read.   I will say however, that I love the movie version starring Johnny Lee Miller and Romola Garai.  You must watch it, the movie alone will make you feel more fond about the book.  

3. Pride and Prejudice
Ah, the book everyone loves to say is their favorite Austen book and quite possibly for a lot of people the only Austen book they've ever read.  I love it just as much as the next person although it's not my number one.  Every time I read it I feel like I am seeing things I didn't see the first time around.  This book probably has my favorite mashup of characters.  Austen has so many unique characters in this book it's fun to read just for that.  We all love Lizzy Bennett.  And people go gaga for Mr. Darcy, who in my own personal opinion doesn't behave ever in a way that you'd write home about.  I think there are other better Austen men.  (Are you gasping?  Most people can't handle it when I say that!)  People love to criticize it and say that it's too fluffy and nothing serious really happens.  And that may be true, but who cares?  It's a great read when what you really want is to lose yourself in a good book with a family that is filled with flawed and bizarre characters.  And I think a part of us all wants to be Elizabeth Bennett, because she's awesome and really, at its basic, this is a fairy tale of a story, and who doesn't want a little bit of that now and then?

2. Persuasion
There are many people who think this is her weakest book but I completely disagree. I will allow that the first 3 chapters are a little hard and mundane to get through, but then it picks up and you will love it from Chapter 4 on.  This is definitely a different type of heroine for Jane Austen.  The biggest difference is that Anne Elliott is older, 27 to be exact, wiser and made a huge mistake in her past that she, for the past 8 years, has regretted.  She broke an engagement to a man she loved because she was persuaded by others to do so.   He then reappears into her life and the story follows her interactions with him in forced society.

Overall, the story lacks a lot of the carefree characters that are typical in most Austen works.  There isn't anyone that you really despise, hate or that causes more than their share of problems.  There isn't really anyone that is wonderfully eccentric either for that matter.  (Mr. Bennett being my favorite of those.)  But somehow the book just pulls you in and I find myself reaching for this again and again, even before Pride and Prejudice.  I know my description doesn't do it justice, but this is just one of those things that you'll have to trust me on.  And if we take a moment to talk about Jane Austen's male characters, you will find yourself completely drawn in by Captain Wentworth.  Perhaps not as honorable as Mr. Knightly, but better than Mr. Darcy in many ways.

Interestingly enough, it seems that the majority of people either put Persuasion as their favorite Austen book, or put it last.  I'd love to see some type of analysis done on this!

1. Sense and Sensibility
I may as well acknowledge this now, I almost never see S&S as someone's top Austen book.  But here it is for me at the top of the 6.  Although I'll admit that it was tough to decide between this and Persuasion, and I might still occasionally interchange them into the number one spot.

This book follows the Dashwood girls, Elinor the oldest, and Marianne her younger sister.  Elinor at 19, is calm, rational, and smart enough to be superior even to her mother.  A fact which some analysts say Austen went too far here for someone who so rationally wrote about every day life.  Marianne, 16 at the start of the book is run by her emotions.  She must fall in love with a man who is as passionate as she is in everything, and must see eye to eye in all things she deems important.  Her highs are high and her lows are low.   To be frank, you'll probably want to smack Marianne repeatedly.  She falls for a scum bag and then almost ends up dying over him because she just can't pull herself together. Elinor isn't without her faults, she is scorned in love, but still somehow doesn't find any fault in the man.

Where to kind of start with some of the interesting things in this one?  This book has a possible allusion to homosexuality in it as well.  Colonel Brandon (a would-be suitor of Marianne) talks about his brother who married the girl who he was in love with, and his brother's "tastes were not as they should be".  This of course could mean anything and people love to speculate on what she truly meant.

A lot of people say that the focus of this book is behaving appropriately in a societal context.  Being nice to people you despise, not thinking that someone deserves the "compliment of an argument" so you just agree with what they said vaguely, sometimes saying only what you can without lying, or specifically to Marianne, behaving inappropriately by not checking impertinent and offending behavior.  I almost get exhausted reading about how they are trying to behave in the best way for the times.

Colonel Brandon, a character you meet early on, quickly falls in love with Marianne.  It should be noted that he is 35, nineteen years older that Marianne.  And that Marianne pretty much thinks he's just about set to die at his "advanced age".  Austen has wide age gaps in several of her novels, and I always find it fascinating that this doesn't seem to be a big deal.  200 years later and we see this a little bit but it doesn't seem to be as "normal" as it appears to be in the early 19th century.  I'd probably have a thing or two to say if one of my girls came home with a boyfriend that much older than her.  In Austen's novels, if he has money and is genteel, it's all a good thing.

S&S also has one of my favorite Austen zingers in it.  "She was not a woman of many words: for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of the number of her ideas".  People just don't talk like this anymore, and it is such a good burn!  I think your typical American would have to stop and really think about what was just said, and Austen does this all the time in her books. I'm constantly catching things like this that I somehow missed before.

I often come across people complaining how the ending of this book wraps up.  And to avoid spoilers for any who haven't read it, I will agree that it does perhaps wind up quickly and a little ambiguously.  Again, this isn't new for Austen, she does this specifically in Mansfield Park.  Some have made the case that she just got tired and couldn't think of how to wrap up her stories.  Others that she allows the people who have become attached to the characters to fix the story in their minds the way that they would have it.  I think that Austen writes her endings in favor of the latter of those two options.

So there you have it.  The Austen novels ranked according to Jess.


PS- I highly recommend the annotated versions by David M. Shapard.  They are excellent, but I only recommend reading them after you've read the novel at least once.  Otherwise you'll get caught up in the extensive footnotes and it breaks up the story too much if you haven't read it before.  Once you've read the annotated version, when you go back and read just the novel, you know and understand so much more than the first time around.  He's done all of the book except for Mansfield Park which he is currently working on.

Friday, April 15, 2016

French Butter Keeper & Why You Need One

In a Marie Kondo world, where we're constantly asking ourselves if something brings us joy and getting rid of all things excessive, it's rare to hear someone say you need something.  Especially something slightly obscure like a butter keeper.

We don't eat a ton of butter, and in the past I've just taken a stick, tossed it on a plate and there it sat in the cupboard in between uses.  By the time we rolled around to eating it again it tasted funny, in other words, it had gone rancid.

Enter the french butter keeper.  I had first heard about it on the blog A Cup of Jo on their gift guide for moms.  I was intrigued enough to research into a little bit more.

Here is the butter keeper they suggested.

French Butter Keeper

Adorable, and I really love the rustic simplicity but perhaps a little bit small for the price. $35.

The idea behind the french butter keeper is that you soften your butter, put into the top bowl, put a small amount of water into the base and turn your butter section upside down into the water.  The water creates an air-tight seal, thus preventing the butter from going rancid.  You change the water a couple of times a week.  Easy and your butter is always fresh.

I decided to search Amazon and see what they had available.

Norpro 291A White Butter Keeper, Porcelain
I like the simplicity of this one, and the price at $10, but it's made in China and we really are trying to stay away from that.

Le Creuset Stoneware Butter Crock, 6-Ounce, Cherry
Le Creuset. Pretty much the top tier of all things in the kitchen.  This one comes in six colors for $40.

This one is made by a ceramics company in Oregon.  Love that it's made in the USA, and you can get different options in place of that cow medallion on the top.  (But the cow is my favorite!)  $39

In the end I chose one from Le Creuset.  I really liked the Oregon option, but with no lid and little fingers, I figured the chances of it breaking were much higher.  I used my Amazon reward points to help purchase this and make it a little more palatable to the budget.  Because I have to say $40 for a jar to keep butter in really does sound insane!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Blogs I Follow That Don't Fit My Personality

I love blogs.  I don't do social media, but there are quite a few blogs I follow.  If I'm not careful I could fall down a large and extensive blog hole and not emerge for hours.

Here area a list of blogs I follow and love but that really don't fit me at all:

1.  Franish

A medical student who gives fashion advice as well as extremely interesting health information she learns as she goes through school.  Her style is much more formal than mine.

2.  Look Linger Love

I have to admit that this one is definitely love/hate.  Essentially a designer outfit blog with occasional artsy stuff and family posts.  I go between fascination at the things she suggests and horror at how typically American it is- the idea of always buying the new and best every season.  But I still pop in on a semi-regular basis.

3.  Lladybird

A sewing blog.  For real.  And I do exactly zero sewing.  This is the blog of a total hipster who makes all of her clothes.  And at times a potty mouth you would not believe.  I don't really know why I follow it except the fact that I am in awe of what she does.

4.  Maskcara

Mostly a beauty blog by a make-up artist.  Her transformations on people are amazing.  I wear exactly two types of makeup: eye-linger and mascara, so it's a little odd that I would find this so entertaining.

5.  Extra Petite

Okay, first off, I am not extra petite at all.  And this is essentially a blog that focuses on how clothes for extra petite women fit.  Secondly, she dresses way more formal than I ever would, but there is something lovely about her outfits and the pictures that she shares.

And one blog I want to be a lot more like:

The Elliott Homestead

Any blogs for me you'd recommend that you just can't help yourself?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Moody Obsession: Alexander Nasmyth

It took awhile for me to track this guy down.  His artwork always makes me feel a little wild and stormy.  Here is his page at

Alexander Nasmyth He was a Scottish painter born in 1758.  His paintings were all of actual places, although a few of his sea paintings had buildings added that didn't currently exist. They were painted in so people could see what it would look life if they added it.  Kind of like the 18th century version of Printshop.

I've been wanting one of these for awhile now.  The only issue is that it doesn't quite fit with how I am currently decorating.  These might make a good addition to our bedroom which hasn't been improved upon since we first moved in 10 months ago and which I am kind of going for a more moodier vibe than the rest of the house.

I could see it in any one of these bedrooms.

Come to the dark side (via ):

the HUNTED INTERIOR: Live Edge Inspired Headboard Tutorial:

Farrow & Ball - Trending: Moody Colors as seen on decor8

Friday, April 8, 2016

Rasa Malaysia

What is that title?!

Only my new favorite food blog.  I need to be clear, I don't follow a  lot of food blogs, Gimme Some Oven, mostly.  But with looking for Asian, Indian and Mediterranean recipes to be eating healthier, I stumbled across Rasa Malaysia.

And I am so excited.

This is one of her books, which is rated the #1 Asian cookbook on Amazon.  I'm getting it from the library to see for myself.

I searched "rice noodle recipes" and up came a page with some of the most delicious food I have seen in a while.  Click it to see exactly what I saw, and drool away.

Here are some companies she's worked with.  So you know she's legit.

We have an awesome Asian food store near us.  The kind where I can't read anything because it's all in Chinese, but I can't wait to go back armed with an awesome grocery list.

Here's to healthy eating!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Best Organic Noodles

We eat a fair amount of noodles.  We like pasta a lot, and it's a very efficient way to feed a family as big as ours.

With our switch to eating as organic as possible, we've found organic noodles as well.  For cheap. And from Costco.  Who'd have thought?

These come in a 6 pack, and it's just slightly over $1 per pound for organic noodles.  Our kids love these noodles, and Chris has said more than once that they are the best for soups ever.  We keep about 2 sets of these on hand at all times.

They also have organic spaghetti noodles, again, just over $1 per pound.  These ones you can actually feel the difference between regular noodles.  They feel slightly more rough to the touch.  I have no idea why that is, but it's something that I've noticed.

I don't really think I can tell a difference in taste of the organic vs. non-organic possibly because we've been eating these for so long.   And while they may not be whole wheat and just regular pasta,
I certainly feel better about eating organic ones.

Monday, April 4, 2016

No Spending April

Last month I read the book Living Well Spending Less.

The whole premise is spending what we can afford, focusing on saving for the future, minimizing the American mentality of I-want-it-I need it-I-have-to-have-it-now syndrome.

In it she talks about how her family decided to have a month where they didn't buy anything that wasn't essential.  No coffees at Caribou, nothing from the second hand store, no shoes on clearance even if it's for the kids, nothing extra at all.

I decided that would be an excellent plan and thus we have No Spending April.

Her family was able to save over $1000, and while I am not anticipating that much because we just don't have that type of expendable income, I am hoping that the number will be several hundred dollars.

My plan is to obsessively pay attention to what we are buying, which will mostly consist of groceries, because there isn't really anything that we would need besides that.  We all have more than enough clothes, more than enough entertainment, more than enough toys.  Although with taking their toys away because they don't clean them up, they don't even miss those.  They read, and play outside, and color and draw, and never even ask for toys.  

Even with food we'll focus a lot on eating what we have, which will probably involve some, shall we say, creative meals.  And that's okay.  It will be a good time to talk to our kids about all of the people in the world who don't get to eat regular meals.

I'm excited and will blog about how it goes.