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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