Spring Cleaning


I’m wearing a black silk skirt, a black wool sweater, and a black cat bag from my elementary school days. My mom undertook a spring cleaning at her home in San Diego, and as a result, my phone received photos of over a dozen bags of all shapes and sizes, all belonging to me. Do you want to keep any of these? There was a bright yellow tote bag featuring a screen print of Andy Warhol’s “Giant Size” (college), three different blue Jansport backpacks (middle school), a floral purse from Nordstrom’s BP section (definitely high school), among many others. The cat bag featured above is the only thing I kept for myself, though my mom held onto a few others in the name of memories. I’m not as vulnerable to nostalgia; I have no qualms getting rid of the old and clearing things out. For instance, whenever I survey my wardrobe, I find fewer excuses to keep any given item, so I regularly drop off garbage bags full of clothes at Goodwill. I have always held onto handwritten notes, letters, and cards, but I don’t receive nearly as many as I used to, so the collection I have thus far stuffed into three shoeboxes hasn’t required any new accommodations.
 
My sister recently moved from Seattle to Toronto with the goal of owning as few things as possible, so though I was encouraged to take anything and everything, I walked away with just four books: Lonely Planet’s Amsterdam guide, And Then There Were None, The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath, and a newer edition of The Catcher in the Rye. I very much want to visit Amsterdam, And Then There Were done is a perennial favorite and Agatha Christie is my mom’s favorite author, I’m as forever curious about Sylvia Plath as everyone else, and I collect any and all Salinger. Hauling these four books onto the flight from Seattle back to the Bay Area, I was faced with the sheer inconvenience of such a thing, and though I’m an advocate of good ole’ books, I’m also practical enough to know that the transition to e-books is largely inevitable. I’m just not there yet and I’m in no rush to get there.
 
I haven’t gone through any kind of spring cleaning myself, but I have embraced spring with nightly walks, deli sandwiches, last summer’s sandals, trips to the beach, and bike rides instead of car rides. I have two books on the immediate to-read list, both by Virginia Woolf. All is well.

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Post-Reading: Persuasion

“You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan.”
(A letter from Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot )
 
The time between finishing a book and writing about it should be as short as possible, as in I prefer when it happens immediately. My memory is strong and my feelings are fresh, the perfect foundation for reflection. Alas, I let this one linger, so I am afraid that whatever I write will be a dimmed version of my true love and enthusiasm for the book. Persuasion is thus far and by far my favorite of Jane Austen. It is a love story not of excessive romance, but of two people growing older, wiser, and finding their way back together. The pages overflow with characters, but unlike Sense and Sensibility, which required scribbling family trees in the margins, I found it easy to keep track of Persuasion’s names and relations. Every character is unique and well-developed, even the minor ones are memorable, and almost every one of them has some kind of influence on the relationship between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.
 
During a group outing in which the friends disperse among various activities, Anne becomes flustered by a conversation she overhears between Wentworth and Henrietta. Anne is relieved when everyone in the party gathers back together, as she is able to collect herself amidst the noise of the crowd: “Her spirits wanted the solitude and silence which only numbers could give.” I immediately thought of the same idea famously expressed in The Great Gatsby: “I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
 
My only wish is that I could have been privy to the details of Anne and Wentworth’s relationship. We are to assume that they are soul mates, that this is a meeting of the minds, yet because they are estranged for most of the story, we do not get to witness the connection ourselves. I suppose this is only a credit to Austen’s talent of creating characters whom we would love to observe, or to overhear in long conversation. I’m bound to come back to Austen, and the call will surely be Emma, but for now I leave her, and I think I miss her already.
 
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Love and Friendship and Other Youthful Writings

Penguin Classics sent along Love and Friendship and Other Youthful Writings, a collection of Jane Austen’s juvenilia that I previously did not know existed. Juvenilia is the work produced by an artist during his or her youth. Jane was a prolific young writer, proving to be one of those lucky people who discovers their passion early in life. Jane’s father is said to have given her the notebooks in which she wrote these stories, and inside the front cover of one of those notebooks, her father inscribed:
 
“Effusions of Fancy by a very Young Lady Consisting of Tales in a Style entirely new.”
 
I told myself I would move on from Austen after Persuasion, but I’m far too curious about such early work, so I’ve decided to scatter these stories over the next few months, reading a couple here and there. Some of them are a mere two pages, so it is the ideal way to keep a little Austen in my life. So far I’ve read three stories: “Sir William Mountague,” “Memoirs of Mr Clifford,” and “The beautifull Cassandra.” The stories are incredibly unique, full of imagination, and hilarious. Sir William Mountague falls in love with every woman he sees, and in “Memoirs of Mr Clifford,” Jane makes fun of the self-indulgent genre by running through the mundane details of a man and his travels from Bath to London. “The beautifull Cassandra” is a charming account of “a day well spent” and is dedicated to Jane’s beloved sister, her closest companion. The dedication I copy here in full because it is just beautiful:
 
“You are a Phoenix. Your taste is refined, your Sentiments are noble, and your Virtues innumerable. Your Person is lovely, your Figure, elegant, and your Form, majestic. Your Manners are polished, your Conversation is rational and your appearance singular. If therefore the following Tale will afford one moment’s amusement to you, every wish will be gratified for.”
 
The book’s hardcover is wrapped in linen and there is a ribbon marker, both features gone from contemporary bookshelves. Handling the book – holding its weight, feeling its texture, and marking a page with a ribbon – reminds me of how physical and active the reading experience can be. How we read has dramatically changed, and will continue to do so, making this volume of Jane Austen’s early work nostalgic in more ways than one.

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Ninth Street

I have too many floral skirts to count, so I’m always more than prepared for spring. Then again, the lines between California’s seasons have blurred, with each season proving to be unusually warm and dry. Most experts agree this isn’t a good thing. Nevertheless, spring in Berkeley means squinting in the sun on the walk to Philz via Ninth Street and drinking a large iced coffee before dinner. The coffee was accompanied by a couple chapters of Persuasion, and I must say, I may have unknowingly saved the best for last. It is heartfelt, sophisticated, and Anne Elliot is by far my favorite Austen heroine. I love that Anne and Captain Wentworth are the couple to watch, yet they hardly interact with each other, and it is the peripheral conversations and events that push the story of their relationship forward. This makes even the most distant, civil remark between them feel electric and full of meaning.
 
I enjoyed an abbreviated spring break of three days in San Diego, where relaxing and indulging is easy if not natural to do. The weekend included wine tasting, Indian food, strolling through Coronado, gin and tonic at the bars in North Park, fish tacos, and playing with a chihuahua. March was a fast one, though I suppose they all are. I’m aiming for April to be a productive one, which includes figuring out what exactly that means to me. Away we go.
 

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Sense and Sensibility

“Though nothing could be more polite than Lady Middleton’s behavior to Elinor and Marianne, she did not really like them at all. Because they neither flattered herself nor her children, she could not believe them good-natured; and because they were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical: perhaps without knowing what it was to be satirical; but that did not signify. It was censure in common use, and easily given.”
Sense and Sensibility, p. 67
By Jane Austen
Published 1811

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Currently Reading: Persuasion

Persuasion is the last of Jane Austen’s books that I plan to read before taking a breather, and fittingly so, as it is her last completed novel. The timing is especially perfect because having just finished her first novel, Northanger Abbey, I am very curious to compare the bookends of her life’s work.
 
Anne Elliot is 27-years-old, noticeably older than Austen’s previous heroines. She is the middle child of widower Sir Walter Elliot, a vain man who describes her as “haggard.” This is not the story of a giddy young girl flirting her days away, but of a sweet and elegant woman whose life demands heartache and patience. At 19, Anne falls in love with Frederick Wentworth, but rejects his marriage proposal due to her family’s insistence that he is beneath her. Frederick goes off to sea, Anne remains unmarried, and the main drama unfolds when he returns, now a captain in the Royal Navy and an embodiment of the self-made man, another new type of character for Austen.
 
There is something striking about Persuasion being Austen’s final novel before her death at 41, as if it is some kind of culmination of all that she has written, of all that she has experienced. Persuasion is Austen’s all too soon farewell, written even in the face of illness, and I am eager to pay my respects.

Slow Coast


One year ago, I shared thoughts on saying goodbye to 25, and now I bid farewell to 26. The time in-between happened very quickly. My request for the occasion was a drive down the coast, so my boyfriend navigated a trip from Berkeley to Santa Cruz, which took us down the Slow Coast, the 50-mile stretch between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. The temperature reached well over 80, but the ocean breeze cooled us down just enough to make forgoing the AC and rolling down the windows the most sensible thing to do.
 
Our first stop was Verve in the Seabright neighborhood. Though I’ve recently cut back on coffee, choosing to regard such caffeine as a treat for the weekends, I’m quickly developing an appreciation for espresso shots, and whether that will spill into the week is yet to be seen. I indeed had a shot of espresso at Verve, followed by the perfect cappuccino. For lunch we grabbed sandwiches (plus jalapeño potato chips and speared pickles) from an Italian deli and headed to the beach. Summer has arrived far too early in California. The sun was bright, the sand was hot, and the crowd was quiet, drained and subdued by the heat. I was ill-prepared, without a speck of sunscreen, and it wasn’t until my skin began to tingle that it dawned on me that this was a problem. It felt like pure summer, and though I am sure my vision of winter has become overly romantic due to its absence, there is much to be said of the seasons. However, the summer uniform – a sleeveless top, skirt, and Birkenstocks – offers an undeniable lightness and ease. A few more hours and adventures later, including a meander through Porter Meadow on the university campus, we headed out just as the sun was setting and arrived home at 9.
 
Thank you for the beautiful start, 27. I feel a change on the horizon, or perhaps it is a hope for change, and either one of those sounds promising to me. Here’s to the excitement of the unknown; to the new music I will discover, to the classics I will finally read, to the cities I will visit, to learning a tad bit more, to fine-tuning the dream, and to making things happen. 27, I hope to make you proud.

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Post-Reading: Northanger Abbey

I was warned by a reader that the book slows down once Catherine arrives at Northanger Abbey, and she was right. While Catherine is in Bath, we get to experience its buzzing social scene starring the entire cast of characters. Three sets of siblings – Catherine and James Morland, Isabella and John Thorpe, and Eleanor and Henry Tilney – find themselves in a web of friendship, flirtation, and ultimately betrayal. It’s actually surprising just how awful a few of these characters turn out to be, namely Isabella. She is so outlandishly self-serving and fake, that she is tolerable only because she provides friendship (admittedly short-lived) to a character we do like, Catherine, and because a villain’s antics are generally entertaining.
 
Northanger Abbey is not a sweeping or particularly striking story. But it is Jane Austen’s first finished novel and contains bits and pieces that I love. Upon arriving at Northanger Abbey, Catherine sees and hears everything through the lens of a Gothic novel, going as far as to suspect Henry’s father, General Tilney, of murdering or locking up his late wife. No matter how many times her wild imagination is proven wrong, she is relentless, until Henry offers a strongly-worded reprimand and presents what is a clear and beautiful testament of the rational mind: “Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you” (p. 165).
 
There is also a letter that James writes to Catherine, expressing the end of his engagement with Isabella, who has heartlessly left him in hopes of attaching herself to a wealthier man. He painfully writes, “Her duplicity hurts me more than all; till the very last, if I reasoned with her, she declared herself as much attached to me as ever, and laughed at my fears.” The final line reads, “Dearest Catherine, beware how you give your heart” (p. 169). The letter is so heart wrenching that it leads Catherine to cry that she wishes to never to receive a letter again. It is very much worth reading.
 
Austen ends Northanger Abbey’s primary love story, that of Catherine and Henry Tilney, on a terribly unromantic yet realistic note. After Catherine and Henry assure each other of their love and commitment, Austen admits that Henry’s knowledge of Catherine’s infatuation with him had been originally “the only cause of giving her a serious thought” (p. 206). Indeed, how many relationships are forged simply by the flattery and pleasure one receives from another’s obvious affection? Jane Austen gets it.

Currently Reading: Northanger Abbey

Having read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, I was completely thrown off at the beginning of Northanger Abbey. I didn’t start off liking it, but I blame that squarely on the uncomfortable feeling that often accompanies the unexpected. The book lacks that reverent, almost inaccessible tone of so many classics. The pages are noticeably full of dialogue, resulting in a very animated, fast-paced story. There is also an air of detachment, as the narrator makes comments as if she is thinking through the actual writing of the novel. For example, the narrator mocks a character’s constant jabber by dedicating just one paragraph to her life story, explaining that if told by the character herself, it would surely take up the following three to four chapters. There’s even a short essay in defense of novels tucked into Chapter 5.
 
Catherine Morland, a 17-year-old country girl, travels to Bath to experience, for the first time, a vibrant social scene full of theater, dance, and flirtations. Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothic fiction, which is echoed in the protagonist, a devout reader of books starring young heroines in precarious situations. Where I am in the book, Catherine has just begun reading The Mysteries of Udolpho and she is obsessed. However, it seems as if she soon begins to have foreboding, irrational thoughts about everything around her, as if she believes herself to be the heroine of a Gothic novel. The book’s influence on her is to only grow stronger, and the results are promised to be troublesome and hilarious.
 
I’m one third of the way in and not only do I have a soft spot for the protagonist, but I’m also already rooting for a couple, Catherine and Henry Tilney; there’s a character I can’t stand, John Thorpe, and a character I’m suspicious of, Isabella Thorpe, the girl who is your best friend until she gets a boyfriend and you never hear from her again. As mentioned, the book moves quickly, so I don’t think I’ll be waiting long to arrive at Henry Tilney’s home, Northanger Abbey.