Nicholas E. Barron

Words in many mediums

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Category: Book Review (page 2 of 2)

Reviewing the pretty prose in Pride and Prejudice

When you climb Mt. St. Helens’ south side, the rocks and small boulders over which you’ve traversed give way to volcanic ash.

Attempting to progress in the ash is difficult. You place your feet ahead of you, only to have gravity and ash collude in pulling you back near where you previously stood. Every step you take seems futile, as if it’s one step forward, two steps back.

A photo of Mt. St. Helens.

Mt. St. Helens

But with perseverance and ingenuity, you find a way to advance amongst the ash. And you ascend the mountain’s final 1,000 feet.

The persistence required to overcome Mt. St. Helen’s ash field is similar to reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time. This is especially true if you’re not accustomed to reading Jane Austen or other early 19th century English books.

The language in Pride and Prejudice is verbose. Reading the book can require pausing and reading again, to ensure you understand what’s being communicated. It can be one sentence forward, two sentences back.

But you adapt. You get used to Austen’s writing. The previously difficult-to-read text becomes easier. And that’s when Pride and Prejudice sings to you.

Seeing pride and prejudice’s prose

The subject of Pride and Prejudice’s story, of a houseful of sisters clamoring to marry well, may not be something to which you’re naturally drawn.

After all, the book’s first sentence misaligns with today’s modern morals: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

You are rewarded, however, for setting aside contemporary values and endeavoring through the book’s lengthy prose. For Pride and Prejudice provides a superb review of human relationships.

Particularly through the thoughts and actions of the lead character, Elizabeth Bennett, you see reflected in written form what you often encounter in the reality of interpersonal interaction.

An example: “How earnestly did she then wish that her former opinions had been more reasonable, her expressions more moderate! It would have spared her from explanations and professions which it was exceedingly awkward to give.”

How often do we state an opinion to others and later wish we hadn’t expressed said opinion. We refer to this today as “walking something back,” an idiom often used in reference to politicians’ public statements.

Sure, the effort of saying “walking something back” is minimal. Yet it’s not a phrase which actually communicates, or it at least does not accurately communicate what’s intended.

First off, you’re not actually walking anything. Secondly, those unfamiliar with the phrase’s meaning could easily be confused. Not so with Austen’s writing above.

It’s clear and elegantly expressed how Elizabeth Bennet is feeling. You not only understand what Bennett is feeling, you know how she’s feeling. You’ve been there before. You can empathize with her.

But do you feel similar empathy when you read a public figure is “walking something back?”

How Jane Austen uses words to illustrate the actions, thoughts, and emotions of characters in Pride and Prejudice must be a large reason for the book’s continued popularity. After all, read through a modern lens the story is at its core nothing more than a teenage romance novel.Image of a garden above a quote from Pride and Prejudice that reads, "The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance."

Pride and Prejudice, though, is masterful writing reflecting for us the role misconceptions, interactions, falsehoods, and truthfulness can have in how we engage with one another. Austen shows us how primitive our relationships with each other can still be, despite how far we’ve come as a species.

The major marvel of reading Pride and Prejudice today isn’t that there once was a society in which a women’s worth is determined by whom she married. It’s the similarities between how we today and the characters in Austen’s novel engage with each other.

In the end, it’s clear that no matter how much has changed since Pride and Prejudice first published in 1813, we humans are still the same. More or less.

Pride and Prejudice Book Cover Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Courier Corporation
January 28, 1813

In early nineteenth-century England, a spirited young woman copes with the suit of a snobbish gentleman, as well as the romantic entanglements of her four sisters.

Book Review: “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things”

“The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things” (affiliate link) by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk is about a family coping with loss.

Carol and Andrew Bauer’s adult daughter, Jennifer, is missing. She was last seen leaving a New York City club with a man. Andrew, Carol, and their other child, Ben, are coping with her disappearance.

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The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things Book Cover The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things
Courtney Elizabeth Mauk
Little a
October 1, 2016

Set against a layered Manhattan landscape, The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things explores a fractured family through the alternating perspectives of the mother, father, and brother of a young woman during the aftermath of her disappearance. A year of silent but collective anguish culminates in the fateful thirty hours after a body with a striking resemblance to hers is found, and we see her buttoned-up Upper West Side family spiral in different, dangerous directions: Her mother, Carol, nearly comatose by day, comes alive at night in a vigilante-like attempt to track down her daughter's killer. Her brother, Ben, once the "good kid," adopts her bad habits along with her former friends who may have been complicit in her death. And after failing to keep his family from splitting apart, her seemingly stoic father, Drew, finally allows himself to crack. In her third novel, Courtney Elizabeth Mauk presents a nuanced character study and offers a jolting and unforgettable portrait of a family's struggle to survive.

Book Review: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories”

The book cover of Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories."

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Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories” (affiliate link) is a short story collection cloaked in masculinity.

The stories cover lion hunting and boxing and other “manly” activities. And if you’re looking for strong female characters, you should move along.

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories Book Cover The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories
Ernest Hemingway
Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audible

Contains ten of Hemingway's classic stories including "The snows of Kilimanjaro," "A day's wait," "Fathers and sons," "The killers," and "The short happy life of Francis Macomber."

Book Review: “The Shelf Life of Happiness”

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David Machado’s “The Shelf Life of Happiness” (affiliate link) isn’t an uplifting book. But what can you expect from a novel born out of the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis?

The story follows Daniel, a husband to Marta and father to Flor and Mateus. Daniel’s lost his job in Lisbon, Portugal. Marta and the kids moved in with her parents in another town.

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The Shelf Life of Happiness Book Cover The Shelf Life of Happiness
David Machado
September 1, 2016

Ripped apart by Portugal's financial crisis, Daniel's family is struggling to adjust to circumstances beyond their control. His wife and children move out to live with family hours away, but Daniel believes against all odds that he will find a job and everything will return to normal. Even as he loses his home, suffers severe damage to his car, and finds himself living in his old, abandoned office building, Daniel fights the realization that things have changed. He's unable to see what remains among the rubble--friendship, his family's love, and people's deep desire to connect. If Daniel can let go of the past and find his true self, he just might save not only himself but also everyone that really matters to him.

Book Review: “The Underground Railroad”

Image showing the cover of Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad."

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It could be some time before I read another book as powerful as Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” (affiliate link).

Cora is a third-generation slave. She backs into fleeing Randall, the Georgia plantation where she lives. But once on the run, Cora embraces her freedom, even as it takes various forms throughout the book.

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Book Review of “Never Fall Down: A Novel”

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Patricia McCormick’s “Never Fall Down: A Novel(affiliate link) takes you through a real-life nightmare.

The book’s protagonist is Arn Chorn-Pond, an 11-year-old Cambodian boy. The story is a true one, as best as McCormick can make it based on research and in-person interviews. It’s written as a first-person novel from Arn’s perspective.

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Never Fall Down Book Cover Never Fall Down
Patricia McCormick
Historical fiction
Random House
Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audible

The day the soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn's life is changed for ever. Facing the brutal regime of the Rhmer Rouge and the horror of the Killing Fields, Arn must fight to survive at any cost.