Big Citizenship Discussion with Co-Founder of City Year, Thurs. Oct 14

Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year and CEO/founder of Be the Change, Inc., has written a new book — Big Citizenship — and is coming to campus to discuss the book and highlight Northeastern students who are Big Citizens. “‘Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others,’ Robert Kennedy famously wrote, ‘he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.’ No one better exemplifies the truth of these words than Alan Khazei, the co-founder of City Year. In this stirring call to arms, Khazei lays out a path for the renewal of America, which should provoke conversation, debate and action.” —Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and presidential historian. Who: Alan Khazei with Barry Bluestone Where: Curry Student Center Ballroom When: Thursday October 14th, 2:30-4:00pm What: Discussion and Book Signing with Alan Khazei!!

Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises

I recently accomplished the task of rereading one book that I was particularly taken with in high school. The Sun Also Rises (1926), Ernest Hemingway’s first novel and perhaps his most famous, was the book. It was this book that might have started the imprecisely defined genre of the “generational novel,” a label that usually entails a certain degree of cynicism. The novels of Bret Easton Ellis, or a film like Kids might later fall in to this category. But The Sun Also Rises is a generational novel in a much grander way. . The time is the roaring 20’s and the setting is Paris. We are introduced to Jake Barnes, an American ex-patriate who has all the world-weariness of a Humphrey Bogart character due to a war injury that left him sexually incompetent. He has been in love with the Lady Brett Ashley ever since the first world war, but he has no way of marrying her due in part to this injury, and due in part to her utter promiscuity. She is engaged to a Scottish man named Mike, but is having an affair with a Count. Also coming in to the picture is Robert Cohn, a Jewish boxer from Princeton who is unhappily married and prone to a victimization complex. Jake’s friend Bill, another American, will be introduced after some time in France, in which all five principle characters– Jake, Bill, Cohn, Lady Brett Ashley and Mike– will rendezvous in Pamplona, Spain, where they are attending the summer fiesta. That all of these characters–except for the reasonable Bill–are tormented and in several cases pathological people is a testament to the book’s realism. The book is not a work of realism in the sense that it depicts the grittiness of everyday life; indeed, these characters are not everyday people. They appear to have more money on hand than the average person, a more curious intellect (the narrator, Jake, and Cohn are both writers) and in one case (Lady Brett Ashley) come from aristocracy. But they are certainly not extraordinary either; in fact, the point is that each person has been barred from living a truly fulfilling life either by injury (Jake), insecurity (Cohn) or promiscuity (Brett). The story simply details the manifestations of these roadblocks that take place over a year or so. The Sun also Rises is a tragedy after the fact. The book does have to be read in the context of its time: references to “the War,” casual anti-semitism, even more casual drinking, smoking and scenes featuring horses and carriages as modes of transportation. But the characters seems modern enough to make its occasional datedness secondary. It also makes it somewhat sad. These people are in their 30’s, and yet they often act like teenagers, or people who cannot get over themselves. How many real people does this still apply to? How pessimistically timeless is that? The book can be found–along with many other Hemingway books– in the fiction section of the library.

The Family Fortune

Keeping up with my Austen kick, another slightly chick lit adaptation that I read recently (this fall) was The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz.  This modernizing update of Persuasion was recommended to me by a friend.  Even though I’m well familiar with the story, I still found myself dying to get back to reading it.  Somehow, these stories still manage to generate in me a page-turning suspense.

I thought certain aspects of this update worked better than others.  Jane Fortune, the Anne Eliot stand-in works for her family’s literary journal, the Euphemia Review.  While in keeping with Jane’s literary interests (and the opportunity for meeting her Captain Wentworth figure, writer Max Wellman), something about the unrealistic nature of her career bothered me.  The story is set in Boston, which makes it a fun read. 

While no Austen, and at times oddly irksome, I still found myself captivated by The Family Fortune.  What do you think of the cottage industry of chick lit ‘Austen’ retreads?  Do you have a book that fully captured your interest despite its faults?

The Jane Austen Book Club

Seeing as I wrote about Jane Austen yesterday, I wanted to continue in that vein and write a bit more about an Austen spin-off I recently enjoyed. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler was published in 2004, but I did not read it until this past summer.

This was a book I had been somewhat interested in, but never felt fully motivated to pick up. Last summer I finally checked it out of the library, and read it while traveling to visit a friend. I became instantly absorbed, and found the novel both humorous and moving. I thought Fowler created a novel that was both innovative and entertaining, and which borrowed from Jane Austen, while still remaining subtle and original. I felt like she was really able to capture Austen’s style and wit, while using her own voice to create fresh stories and characters.

The novel follows the formation of a book club in the Sacramento area—a group comprised of six members who plan to read and discuss Austen’s six novels. The group is made up of five women, and one man, and an adventure of love and self-discovery results for each member of the group. While each section begins as they meet for book club, I found the character “flashbacks” the most interesting and poignant parts of the novel.

I found The Jane Austen Book Club to be one of those novels that’s just a real pleasure to read, and I’d thoroughly recommend it. (Though, as a houseguest, I did wander off a bit in my eagerness to keep reading!)