Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, by Lisa Pliscou

YoungJaneAustenCOVER-214x300Young Jane Austen is a sweet, but odd, children’s book about the childhood of Jane Austen.  It’s actually three books.  The first is a children’s book which is a “speculative biography”.  The author is clear in the introduction that she is using the few facts about Jane’s early life as a springboard to try to imagine this life in more detail.  It’s graced with charming illustrations by Massimo Mongiaro.  They are lovely line drawings that convey a delicate sense of emotion and detail.  The writing is more awkward – in trying to keep the language simple, the author frequently comes across as talking down to her audience.

Art by Massimo Mongiaro

Art by Massimo Mongiaro

The second book within a book is the annotated version – here we get the whole book again with each section followed by more factual notes and background.  It’s an odd structure.  I preferred the annotations to the actual book, to be honest, because they involved less conjecture and were more matter-of-fact in tone – the main text is quite cutesy.

The annotations are followed by a short biography of Jane Austen and a timeline, as well as a bibliography.

So did I like the book?  Well, I found the information in the timeline and annotations to be helpful, and I loved the illustrations.  To be fair, I should find some children and get their opinion of the main section of text.  I’m pretty sure that my eleven year old daughter would view it with withering scorn because the tone is so cutesy.  Perhaps it might work better for a child of around eight?  Of course it’s hampered by the fact that not much happens. But I can imagine a very specific type of child being interested in the portrait of an avid reader from long ago.

The construction of the book was needlessly repetitive – honestly I’ve never seen a book constructed this way before.  The book did do a good job of showing Jane as a person instead of a mysterious genius icon.  And the illustrations are lovely.  Die-hard adult Austen fans will enjoy the details about Jane’s early life and younger children might be attracted to the portrait of a little girl who loves to play and read.



Between the Lines Book Club: Magical Realism

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club!  This month, we are discussing Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel, Love in the Time of Cholera.  You can leave a comment below, or come join us for our in person book club on April 25, at 10:30AM.  We meet at Arden Dimick Library at 891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864.  Coffee and light snack provided.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is famous for his use of magical realism.  He described the style in these words: “It was based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness.”

The term “magical realism” is a nebulous one.  At it’s core, it describes a style in which magical things occur without comment or explanation.  Often these things serve as metaphor.  A matter-of-fact tone is key, as stated by

One important aspect of any magical realist text is that the author recounts seemingly incredible events without sounding the least bit surprised, impressed, or spooked. It’s essential that the author present these supernatural aspects of the story in a matter-of-fact way, like Gabo does here – otherwise it wouldn’t be magical realism. It would be a ghost story.

The online magazine Margin, which is devoted to modern magical realism, asks contributors to consider these questions when deciding whether or not a story is one that uses magical realism:

“Is there an event in my story that cannot be explained by universal laws or logic?”

“Will my reader witness a collision of disparate realms in my story?”

“Does my fictional world clearly resemble my own real world? Does it share the same historical and/or cultural realities?”

“Have I allowed certain contradictions and ambiguities to exist in my story?”

“Is there a metamorphosis in my story? Is it treated as something mundane?”

“Do I use imagery, symbols, and/or metaphor to drive the narrative?”

“If the story is in first person, is my narrator a charmed or extra-ordinary storyteller?”

“Does the structure of my story reflect its deeper meaning?”

“Do I employ folklore, mythology and/or ancient systems of belief in my story?”

“Is the realism in my story heightened, even exaggerated or supercharged?”

“Might my story have a subversive message?”

“Do I have elements of both the unreal and reality interwoven into my story? Is the weave seamless?”

“Does my story involve otherwise voiceless characters, abandoned places or rejected ideas? Is my story told from the point of view of The Other?”

“Do I achieve a sense of enchantment without using fantastical devices and creatures — i.e. crystal balls, dragons, magic spells, elves — in favor of realistic objects and characters?” (TIP: YOUR STORY WILL GET PAST THE FIRST READING IF YOU MEET THIS GOAL.)

“Does my story illustrate an alternative truth?”

Although magical realism is associated with Latin American authors, it’s by no means limited to that part of the world.  Some notable examples of works that can be considered magical realism (other than the work of Garcia Marquez) are Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Equivel, White Teeth, by Zadie Smith, Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie, and A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond.

Margins magazine has an amazing links page with recommendation of articles and books on magical realism as well as interviews with authors.  You can find it at

Happy Early Birthday, Charlotte

Charlotte Bronte’s birthday isn’t until April 21, but we’re celebrating early this year BECAUSE WE CAN.  Happy birthday, Charlotte!

To celebrate, here’s my favorite moment from Jane Eyre:

“I tell you I must go!” I retorted, roused to something like passion. “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;–it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,–as we are!…I am no bird, and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

Well, that was bracing.  Go do something awesome today, in memory of Charlotte!

Between the Lines Book Club: A Short Biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

WednesdayVideoThis month in Between the Lines Book Club we are discussing Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Marquez’s writing had a huge influence on fiction not only in Latin America but across the world.

Gabriel Jose de la Concordia Garcia Marquez was born in 1927 in Columbia.  He was raised by his grandparents for his first ten years of life, and then by his parents.  Gabriel’s parents, Gabriel (Sr) and Luisa, had a turbulent romance.  Luisa’s father disapproved of Gabriel Sr., but he won Luisa with countless letters and with violin serenades – a courtship that became part of Love in the Time of Cholera.

Garcia Marquez worked at several different newspapers as a journalist, columnist, and film critic.  He was active in politics, exposing corruption in his series “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor” and assisting i the overthrow of Venezuelan president Marcos Perez Jiminez.  In 1958 he married Mercedes Baracha.  They had two sons together.

Garcia Marquez’s first novel was One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel which was inspired by his Grandparent’s household.  It was an instant hit and gave him international fame.  His books include fiction, non-fiction (News of a Kidnapping), and memoir (Living to Tell the Tale).  He also wrote film and television screenplays.  In 1982 he received the Nobel Prize for literature, because of “his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”.

The author passed away in 2014, from pneumonia, at the age of 87.