Favorite love stories

Earlier today I stumbled on Esther Freud’s top ten love stories in fiction. I’ve never thought of myself as a romance reader, but it’s true that many of the classics are love stories from the ages. Ms. Freud’s #1: Gone With the Wind.

“Rhett Butler’s slow, cool devotion to Scarlett through so much of the novel, and the terrible moment when he stops loving her, and she realises she does, in fact, love him, had me feverishly begging fate, or Margaret Mitchell to intervene.” I agree, and also with several entries on Ms. Freud’s list (I was particularly pleased to see Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth — beautiful!).

What would my own short list of favorite romances be? Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina would be at the top of it, I’m sure. Probably my favorite book, it contains two romances: one that ends happily, and one that does not at all — giving us a story about choices, about choosing a love that builds or one that destroys. And I would say GWTW as well, for the very reasons Ms. Freud gives. Another would be Sharon Kay Penman’s historical novel of Wales, Here Be Dragons; along the same vein is Susan Kay’s story of Elizabeth Tudor, Legacy, an unconventional love story but a powerful one.

Which of your favorite books contain the greatest romances?

Google Books may want to rule the world, but can they actually produce as promised?

Here’s an admission for you: I have a hard time comprehending all of the details around what Google Books is up to. I gather they’re scanning everything (though not necessarily well — more on that in a sec) ever published, posting the out-of-copyright stuff, linking to snippets of the other stuff, and there are some folks objecting to that, so there’s a lawsuit, and a settlement in the works. This article, The Audacity of the Google Book Search Settlement, caught my eye today, and laid out some of the legal hoop-jumping, so that helped. And I know that the American Library Association has been having their say, as they generally do (not a fan, but that’s another post). I’m just not sure what I think of it all.

I digitized a book myself last year, a book the Town of Amherst holds the copyright to so no worries there, and is long out of print (A History of the Town of Amherst, New York, 1818-1865). It was a painful, arduous process, and I even had a grant to do it, but oy, I’m not sure I’d gear up for that again. But there’s Google Books, with tons of resources, just scanning and posting away, and doing all the heavy lifting, so that’s good, right? For the same reason I scanned my one book (it’s useful to local researchers and there are only a few copies out there, so this way anyone can access it), Google Books is scanning, well, all the books.

But — I’ve been playing around with the Barnes & Noble ereader app for the iPhone, and used it to download a handful of free ebooks from Google Books. The results have all been poor. Emma chopped off a few words at the beginning and had all kinds of bad characters, poor OCR. Ditto for Persuasion. Virgil’s Aeneid wasn’t so bad. But Anna Karenina was missing the first four chapters — completely missing them. I was appalled. The sloppy OCR I can try to get past (though…) but leaving out four chapters?!

Book Review: Anna Karenina

Review of: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
976 pages; Modern Library, 2000
Summary: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This will perhaps not be very encouraging (but hopefully it will be helpful) to future readers to hear but: in my humble opinion, there is no way to learn to like Tolstoy. There’s no process of adjustment, no method of accustoming oneself to the prose, the descriptions, the style, the themes. You either relish it or you don’t.

In other words, if you begin Anna Karenina and you are not immediately swept up into the story, with its complex characters, family tensions, and ornate depiction of Russian society… If you are ten chapters in and going forward on pure stubbornness… Put the book down. Walk away. This is not for you.

For example: the scene where Levin describes his experience of working in the fields with the peasants on his estate. Some find it impossibly tedious and boring. Personally, I find that to be one of the most compelling passages in the entire book. I’m not right while another reader is wrong, but I will say this: it’s a matter of taste. If you are not engrossed by the complexities of this vast and entrenched society, if you do not feel sympathy for Levin and feel drawn to his inner development, or feel simultaneously charmed and repulsed by Anna, or understand the sheer attraction of Vronsky, then do not torture yourself, and move on.

If you’re staying, though — Anna remains, I believe, one of the most interesting protagonists in literature, and precisely because while the reader is almost unwillingly forced to sympathize with her feelings, it is similarly impossible to remove the stigma of blame from her, or to avoid feeling frustrated with her, as we watch the wreck she makes of not just her life but of her son’s, her husband’s, her lover’s. Her transformation from the alluring and enchanting woman who so impresses young Kitty, to the sad and scorned, paranoid creature that Vronsky himself may still love but possibly no longer wants, in the end, is all of her own doing — but who among us can say we would have successfully avoided all of her misjudgments?

Contrasted with Anna is Levin, though their lives are intertwined only through friends and relatives and they have little real knowledge of each other — Levin is Anna’s exact opposite. We meet him as an awkward and abrupt, solitary man, with troubled family relations and an unrequited love — and in the end, after his long journey of self-awareness, we leave him in a place of pure contentment. We warm to Levin and take him to our hearts, perhaps because his choices are the ones we would like to think we would make.

If you ask the average American to name a Tolstoy novel, they will generally say War and Peace, but I’ve always thought Anna Karenina to be the more human story, the more accessible, and perhaps the greater classic because of that. It truly is a matter of taste — but if it’s to yours, you’ll have stumbled upon a literary find you’ll treasure always.

It’s my duty as a librarian

Look, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. And when that didn’t pan out (it was a shocking disappointment), then I wanted a career in theatre. And then that didn’t work out, and then I became a librarian. You don’t always end up where you think you’re going to, but I’m a firm believer that when you do end up there, you should do your best at whatever it is.

So as a librarian, I try to stay active in regional committees. I try to follow the goings-on of professional organizations (though, more on that another time). I try to keep my head above the library-tech water. I go to workshops. I blog. And I read.

And that’s why I read Twilight. Because like it or not, apparently most of the known universe has already read it, and as a librarian, it’s my duty to keep abreast of the trends. Right?

Oh, and also for the laughs.

Twilight is something like 500 pages long, and it had me laughing somewhere in the first 100 or so. Though, being as how I read it in one sitting, in about three hours, I can’t be sure. I think it was somewhere around the dozenth time Bella tripped over her own two feet, or turned down yet another date from another boy, all the while proclaiming herself to be a plain outcast. I’m quite certain it was long before Edward dazzled us all with his diamond-glittery bare chest. It may have just been in the middle of one of Meyer’s random sentences, one of the ones where she figured, “Why use one over-the-top adjective when you can use five?”

This is another party I’m late to (though I can’t say I’m embarrassed by that). I read this post ages ago, and re-read it now that I’ve finished the book, and it very much sums up my reaction. If I were to elaborate, I could certainly say a lot about the themes, such as they are, and mention that I take a bit of issue with a story about a girl so incapable of being independent that she can’t walk to the beach without falling down or go shopping without needing to be rescued, and how thank goodness there’s a big strong boy vampire around to take care of her. Or about a book written with just a teensy bit of an abstinence-only agenda, because it’s apparently better to be undead than to lose your virginity or get your hands on a condom. And ultimately, all that aside, I could spend a great deal of time talking about the writing, if nothing else; it’s abysmal, and that’s giving abysmal a bad name. (Stephen King has a bit to say on this as well.) And I could add that aside from all of this, I do understand why it’s so popular, at least with teenage girls. I get the appeal of the romance that isn’t overtly sexual, of the attraction of a godlike creature that worships awkward, doesn’t-fit-in you, of the fantasy of moving to a new place and finding your destiny.

But I’ve done my duty, you know. I’ve read it. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go and cleanse my mental palate with something like Jhumpa Lahiri’s book of short stories (brilliant) or even perhaps just a reread of a bit of my beloved Anna Karenina.

That is, until the library lets me know that the copy of New Moon that I reserved is in.