February 28, 2010

February Reads

In a fitting tribute to this month of love, I spent some time with two literary heroines who, after embarking on torrid love affairs, must ultimately make a choice between their passion for another and their need for autonomy and self-respect. As these characters come to realize, choosing between what is right and what comes easy are sometimes mutually exclusive.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. There aren't a lot of books I've read more than once, and most certainly not more than twice, but this book I've read three times. It's that good. And I've only fallen more in love with it with each reading. If you haven't yet picked up Jane Eyre, I urge you to do so. I love the creepy Gothic elements of the story, which have inspired similar-themed stories by Daphne du Maurier (author of my beloved Rebecca) and Jean Rhys of Wide Sargasso Sea, which is based on one of the characters in Bronte's book. Simply put, Jane Eyre gives us one of the best and most satisfying love stories in all of literature (and it gives Ms. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy a serious run for their money in that department). It has one of the most flawed, interesting, and might I add, sexiest, leading men I've ever come across on the page (check out the 2007 BBC film version, starring Toby Stephens, if you want to see just how sexy). And Jane's struggles and choices mirror that of any modern woman's, which makes it as relevant today as it was when it first published in 1847. Furthermore, how exquisite is this hardcover edition of the book? Designed by oh-so-talented Penguin Classics Coralie Bickford-Smith, it has a gorgeous vintage feel to it that can sit majestically on any bookshelf. It's obvious the designer did her homework, as the pattern of the horse chestnut leaf adorning the cover is especially appropriate to the story; I won't tell you why: you must read the book to find out! P.S. You can read an interview in which Coralie talks about her process at Design*Sponge.

The Vagabond by Colette. This book was my introduction into the world of 20th Century French writer Colette. Her style is definitely a departure from the mostly British and American authors I've read; I had to acclimate to the very unsentimental (and to me, very French) way in which the main character, Renée Néré, views the world. Renée is a 33-year-old divorcée and career woman who must choose between settling for a life with a rich suitor who adores her and wishes to take care of her, and retaining a life and identity all her own. The themes and struggles inherent in the story are refreshingly modern. The Vagabond is heralded as one of the first feminist novels ever written, which if you know anything about Colette's life, is quite fitting, as it was one of the first few books published under her own name instead of her ex-husband's, who not only took credit for her previous books, but also took the profits along with it. Colette seems to have had ten lives rolled into one, which makes her a prime pick for a biography.

Next up for March: diving even deeper into my overflowing shelves for books that have been collecting dust months and months after being purchased (guilty as charged). I'm actually quite looking forward to it, as it's like shopping from my very own mini bookshop!

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