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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen, Anna Quindlen Well-loathed books I've re-readRating: 4 very annoyed, crow-feathered stars out of fiveThe Book Report: No. Seriously. If your first language isn't English, or if you're like nine years old, you might not know the story. Note use of conditional. My Review: All right. All right, dammit! I re-read the bloody thing. I gave it two stars before. I was wrong-headed and obtuse and testosterone poisoned. I refuse to give it five stars, though. Look, I've admitted I was wrong about how beautiful the writing is, and how amusing the story is. Don't push.Stephen Sullivan, who rated this with six stars of five, is now on a summer travel break from Goodreads, so I can publish this admission: He was right. It is a wonderful book. I had to grow into it, much as I had to grow into my love for Mrs. Dalloway. But now that I'm here, I am a full-on fan.Deft is a word that seems to have been created for Austen. She writes deftly, she creates scenes deftly. She isn't, despite being prolix to a fault, at all heavy-handed or nineteenth-century-ish in her long, long, long descriptions. She is the anti-Dickens: Nothing slapdash or gimcrack or brummagem about her prose, oh nay nay nay. Words are deployed, not flung or splodged or simply wasted. The long, long, long sentences and paragraphs aren't meant to be speed-read, which is what most of us do now. They are meant to be savored, to be treated like Louis XIII cognac served in a cut-crystal snifter after a simple sole meunière served with haricots verts and a perfect ripe peach for dessert.The romantic elements seem, at first blush, a wee tidge trite. And they are. Now. Why are they? Because, when Miss Jane first used them in Pride and Prejudice, they worked brilliantly and they continue so to do unto this good day. Why? Because these are real feelings expressed in a real, genuine, heartfelt way, as constrained by the customs of the country and times. And isn't that, in the end, what makes reading books so delicious? I, a fat mean old man with no redeeming graces, a true ignorant lower-class lout of the twenty-first century, am in full contact with the mind, the heart, the emotional core of a lady of slender means born during the reign of George III.You tell me what, on the surface of this earth, is more astonishing, more astounding, more miraculous than that. Jane Austen and I Had A Moment. She's Had A Moment with literally millions of English-speakers for over 200 years. She's had moments with non-English speakers for more than a century. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy are cultural furniture for a large percentage of the seven billion people on the planet. (Large here is a relative term. Less than one? Still amazing for a book 200 years old.)Reading is traveling in time, in space, but most importantly inside. Inside yourself, inside the characters' emotions, inside the author's head and heart. It is a voyage of discovery, whether you're reading some bizarro mess, Dan Brown's mess, religious tracts, Twilight, whatever. You-the-reader are going somewhere in a more intimate contact than you-the-reader have with any other being on the planet. Movies, TV, sex, none of them take you as deep into the essence of feeling and emotion as reading does. And no, snobs, it does NOT matter if it's well written, it matters that the book speaks to the reader. (Sometimes, of course, what one learns is how very shallow and vapid some people are...I'm lookin' at you, Ms. Fifty Shades.)So I thank that rotten, stinkin' Stephen-the-absent Sullivan, safe in the knowledge he won't see me admitting this, for reminding me to live up to my own goal of remaining open to change. I heard him yodeling his rapture, and I revisited the book, and I learned something valuable: Only admit you're wrong when the person you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of isn't around to see.