When I first heard of P.D. James (many long years ago), I initially thought she was a he. I mean, how many women prefer to be known by their initials rather than their actual names? When I heard yesterday that Baroness James had died at the age of 94, I can’t deny I thought with regret about how her most illustrious character and protagonist of fourteen James novels, Adam Dalgliesh, would fare. Yes, James did (more or less) retire Dalgliesh when the last mystery novel (The Private Patient) in which he was featured debuted in 2008. But for readers of the fourteen books, his persona is so familiar, so real! (Did I mention he’s a poet?)
When I began to be more serious about my writing in adulthood, several others in the writing world – who knew about publishing – told me mystery-writing was an easier avenue for achieving publication success. I read some mystery/detective whodunnits and a ton of Ellery Queen before I acknowledged these weren’t my cup of tea.
In something of a surprise, I stumbled across P.D. James who (I discovered) had begun writing detective stories as a self-taught “apprenticeship” she hoped would assist her development into a “serious” novelist. My aspirations mirrored hers. Before I’d read one book through, I was hooked. Her cautionary comment became a watchword for me: “a detective story is very easy to write badly but difficult to write well.” Continue reading “A Full Life and Long”→
Earlier this month, I neglected to acknowledge the birthday of Jane Austen who was born December 16, 1775. (Shame on me for overlooking her!)
As an English novelist, Austen’s name is a familiar one to almost everyone who enjoys period fiction. Though her books are usually categorized with the Romance genre, I think her books appeal to a wider range of readers. Further, both Austen and her books have held consistent appeal for film and television audiences (imdb.com has an overview).
Writing during a time when women generally achieved their social status and economic security through marrying well, Austen’s books relate the strict conventions that governed social interactions. The author’s astute observations provide keen insights and amusing situations for one’s reading and re-reading pleasure.
The reason? I had just purchased two Jane Austen books for my two-year-old granddaughter!
English professor Janine Barchas (University of Texas, Austin) writes in her guest post that this gift-giving season is (was) a perfect opportunity to make “… a holiday present of a Jane Austen novel to that budding (or confirmed) Janeite in your circle.” She displays in her post a splendid variety of book covers from different editions of Austen books.
Now, my granddaughter is only two − and while she’s bright, she is not yet reading − so I didn’t actually purchase any 200+ page Austen novels for her. Instead, in a moment of serendipity, I discovered the Cozy Classics, and I’m absolutely enthralled!
The Cozy Classics are a series of board books that a “budding (or confirmed) Janeite” from the under-five age group might enjoy. I don’t know that Professor Barchas anticipated Austen fans in that age group, but why not?
Our diminutive future book lover (we expect she will be, as the rest of us are) can achieve Jane Austen fan-status first by studying the full-color pictures presented on each page of her Cozy Classics editions.
These pictures are not highly-detailed, but still simply expressive and they combine with a one-word description (i.e. “friends” − twelve words in all for a single board book) by which the child can comprehend something of the scene depicted on the page. It’s an impressive creation … and I suspect, a fun way to introduce one’s children to classic literature long before their reading level would normally allow it. How I wish these had been available when my children were young! Developing their reading skills would have been a much more pleasant experience.
I thought it was interesting to read the reviews of these board books on the Amazon website. One comment puzzled me with the commenter noting:
What puzzles me is the suggestion “marry” is an “obvious exception” to the rule for using common words with board book aged readers. Perhaps I’m being too picky? Argumentative?
My personal philosophy (as a parent, grandparent and home educator for a decade) was to employ a reasonable vocabulary with my children (whatever their age at the time). While some words/concepts may be beyond their grasp initially, the context often expands their understanding. A child who doesn’t comprehend the full scope of “marry” (enough to explain the concept for your satisfaction) is still capable of understanding common connections in relationships.
Furthermore, in my view the best way to encourage a child’s growing and broadening vocabulary is to speak normally using words one would normally use instead of dumbing down conversation to the child’s level. Children want to learn. They’re like sponges, absorbing every droplet of knowledge. This is one way we teach them.
One final thing about Austen. I always think of her mostly through the lens of her fictional character, Emma. This novel portrays Emma Woodhouse as a well-meaning matchmaker whose scheming often goes awry. For all Emma’s contrivances, she eventually realizes Mr. Knightley has captured her affections and she his, leading to their happily-ever-after life together … in stereotypically perfect romantic fashion.
For Jane Austen, novelist, a perfect romantic ending only happened in the pages of her books. She died single in 1817 at the age of 41.