authors, Books, Travel

All roads lead to Austen?

Are you a Jane Austen fan? I am. And I have often wondered how the simple stories of villages and the fate of women can hold so many generations.

I think it comes down to style. Jane has a quiet satirical style. For her novels are not really romances (though Hollywood might disagree). Romances are  not enough to hold my attention. And, I think, the attention of generations. Instead, her novels tell of the raw  life of women – in her time, and in ours.

Jane Austen is thus a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears upon the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there. What she offers is, apparently, a trifle, yet is composed of something that expands in the reader’s mind and endows with the most enduring form of life scenes which are outwardly trivial. Always the stress is laid upon character……Here ……are all the elements of Jane Austen’s greatness. It has the permanent quality of literature. Think away the surface animation, the likeness to life, and there remains, to provide a deeper pleasure, an exquisite discrimination of human values. Virginia Woolf

Looking deeper into Austen’s novels has thus become a habit of mine. Her characterisation is, indeed, her genius. Her commentary on social mores and the lives of women are both humorous and full of depth. So, you can imagine my delight at finding a copy of  All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year Long Journey with Jane by Amy Smith at a local thrift shop. All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane

Smith, a literature professor at a college in California, embarked on a sabbatical of travel through South America. I don’t know about you, but I love travel stories and travel diaries. During this year, Smith taught some classes to American exchange students, gave some lectures and talks on her travels, and on Jane Austen ( her special interest). Importantly,  however, for the book and for Austen fans (whom Smith calls ‘Jane-ites’) Amy Smith runs Jane Austen book club discussions in each of the six countries she visits.

Smith’s writing style, alas, is not as poetic or delightful as is the style of Jane Austen. Indeed, parts of Smith’s book seem simplistic and, well, a tad boring. Overall, however, I have enjoyed the book – for two main reasons.

The first is the description of Smith’s travels. I adore travel. I also adore armchair travel, reading about the travels of others . Having never visited South America, I became engaged in the descriptions of the six countries that Smith visited, their similarities and their differences, their culture, their food, their bookshops. For Smith, rather than imposing  the English Austen on her audiences, also engages in collegial book sharing. Each book club she visits makes suggestions for Smith on must-read novels and authors from that region. As a book-lover myself, the suggestions of new-to-me authors, against the backdrop of their culture, was an introduction to new reading and new paths of exploration.

The second reason why I enjoyed All Roads Lead to Austen, regardless of the somewhat prosaic writing style, is the discussion of how Jane Austen’s novels superseded culture and time. Each book group found something of value in Austen’s works. Each found connections with characters and conflict. Each book group, in each of the six South American countries,  found time to read a translation of an Austen classic in order to discover or re-discover the relationship between art and humanity, that relationship which marks human solidarity.

As one of the book club participants in Ecuador said, while reading and discussing Pride and Prejudice, “If you don’t fight for space in your life for art and conversation, so much will pass you by—for anybody, but especially for women, since we’re always taking care of others.” 

A feminist thought that Jane Austen echoed, in her life and in her work.

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authors, Books, childhood, family

Your favourite author at age 11?

I remember when I was eleven. For a time, we lived with my grandparents in a three bedroom apartment. It was a year when I only attended one school (a milestone in my sixth grade year, in comparison to the four different school of the previous year). I moved to a new school (yet again) at the start of the year. And, in the wide school library, I discovered the author E. L. Konigsburg1048816

The first book I read by Konigsburg was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elisabeth. Yes, it inspired me to start a ‘witches club’ for, like Jennifer, I was new to the school and area and wanted to make my mark, knowing I would not fit in easily.  Then I discovered From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. A book I have savoured. A book that continues to inspire my love for museums (and my occasional wish to run away!).  A book I have shared with many children, my own and others, that still inspires each generation.

What did I like about these books and this author?

I liked the honesty about the little things in life. The details. The conversations.

I liked how Konigsburg weaved stories of growth amid the realisation of adventure in the every day…and in the everydayness of the stories. Konigsburg had the  ability to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary,

I enjoyed (enjoy) her descriptions. Plain. Unadorned. But never simplistic.

I appreciated, and do so even more today, her use of phrasing. A word here, a word there, clusters of text that made me catch my breath and know, inside, that my own story had been articulated.

The characters’ lives, in each of those two books, suggested normalcy. And normalcy was a perfume for me as a child, in my own mixed-up, muddled-up life.

The stories of Elisabeth, and Jennifer, and Claudia and Jamie, whispered to me that, maybe, one day, I could write too. I already scribbled stories and novellas in the back of my old school exercise books. Konigsburg’s writing encouraged me to believe that I, too, could write stories like her. Stories of childhood and life.

E. L. Konigsburg, like Cynthia Voigt, wrote of children and for children, with raw, compassionate honesty. With terse but haunting descriptions. Of plots and characters that echo life with that hint of more.

Because “Having words and explanations for things is too modern..” ( ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’).

What was one of your favourite childhood novels?download

 

 

 

 

Books, fitness, food, intuitive eating, Life, life hacks, self-help

Making peace with food

Recently, somewhere on the web, I read an article by a woman who detailed (in great detail!) what she ate to avoid being fat.

Now, her eating habits are totally her choice. I get that. As is her desire to weigh a certain weight.

But I still felt sad after reading the article. Sadness which I grant that the original author may not feel but sadness nevertheless. Sadness because the daily diet of sameness  implied that food was an enemy, to be kept at bay with a strict routine and self discipline.

And it reminded me to pick up my  copy of Intuitive Eating once again. Because intuitive eating is all about making peace with food. 235869

Food and hunger are not the enemy.

Nothing is. Really.

It’s just life and choices and enjoyment and health, all  stirred together with a dash of exercise and a sprinkling of self care. Like chocolate and bananas in the same meal.

What is intuitive eating? The book outlines ten principles (Note to self and others: principles, to be tried over time and re-visited. Not rules):

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality.
  2. Honour your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
  8. Respect your Body
  9. Exercise – Feel the Difference
  10. Honour your Health

This is a gentle approach to nutrition, exercise and self care. It builds on what nutritionist Ellyn Satter calls the ‘competent eating ‘ model.

Satter notes that child who hasn’t been pressured to eat or not eat certain foods, who hasn’t been pressured to have a different body size to that which is natural for them, is a competent eater, one who feels good about eating…and eats as much as they need.

It really is that simple. Indeed, research shows that prescribed dietary guidelines most often result in restrictive eating, weight preoccupation and conflict or anxiety. In adults and in children.

The alternative is the intuitive eating model.

  • Eat competently (Are you hungry? Are you using food to cover another need or emotion? What are you hungry for? Eat it. Stop when satisfied..).
  • Allow for sustainable activity (Being active in every day life, finding movement and exercise that you like to do and/or that fits into your life so that you don’t neglect other parts of your life and don’t beat yourself up over a magical amount of time for exercise).
  • Work on physical esteem (Valuing all people and all bodies, including yourself and your own).

What does that mean in reality? Many people have written of their experience in making peace with food and exercise. For me, this week, it has meant a lot of walking, both in my work and as part of my use of public transport (I don’t own a car), but little formal exercise. I often do yoga or light weights or cardio but I have a cold and listening to my body meant rest apart from my active life.

It is a similar tale with food. I have been craving fish the last two days, and eaten fish each of these days. As it turns out, fish is incredibly healthy for those with colds and a weaker immune system. In listening to my body, I have fed my nutritional needs.

As Evelyn Tribole notes, in Intuitive Eating: If you don’t love it, don’t eat it, and if you love it, savour it.

The same really  could be said of life.