Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Vikings, Kenya and Why I Love Jane Austen

I forgot how to blog. My blog broke, or I broke, or something. Life is weird. Priorities are hard to manage. Life whirls on, and deciding how to spend time is tough. Do you ever go around wishing you could blog/read blogs/paint/other random hobbies that aren't quite your Main Thing (my Main Things being writing, reading and academic work), and then when a sliver of time to do those things presents itself, you freeze, unable to decide how to fill it?

man, the man is non stop
But I feel like blogging should be a stress-free environment, and I should be able to drop in whenever I can and post whatever I want and not need to fear a loss of relationships. I may not be a “successful" blog in terms of a steadily growing readership, regular posts, etc. But that's OK. I can keep going as I'm going and keep the friends I have, rather than worrying about accruing followers / blogging in the “right" way.

This is all getting a bit deep, sorry, folks!

I mean, I'm literally just here to post mini-reviews for Back to the Classics. Not meaning to get emotional ... we're British after all.


This is a challenge hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate. To participate, you have to read twelve (or six or nine) classics from different categories. To read the rules and categories, click here.

what can I say?: beautiful people : july edition (but not really)

A pre-1800 classic // The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue

A far pre-1800 classic: this Viking epic was written down around 1270-1300. It was a look at an old, brutal world with which I'm not familiar: the Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland of the 13th century. Strange to think that my ancestors dwelt there. (And maybe yours, too, US/Aussie followers! Weird, right?) This saga features kings, goddesses and warrior-poets, as men vie for the hand of Helga the Fair.

“The woman was born to bring war
between men -- the tree of the valkyrie
started it all; I wanted her
sorely, that log of rare silver." (p42)

Mostly the story is told in blunt, plain English -- I love this brand of #VikingSass -- but poems like the one I quoted intersperse it. In that society, poetry was the top form of prowess, along with fighting. I enjoyed peeking into this other world (I'm looking forward, albeit with trepidation, to studying Old and Middle English at uni, Beowulf and the like). And it's only fifty pages long. What's not to like?


“The slander-wary god 
of the storm-sword's spark

mustn't court the cape of the earth
with her cover of linen like snow." (p33)

A classic set in a place you want to visit // The Flame-Trees of Thika

Elspeth Huxley was 1913 when her entrepreneurial, dreamer parents moved the family to Kenya to farm. I read this book in Kenya, but I'm popping it in this category because it is set in Thika, a region I never visited. This is an amazing memoir. I loved seeing in its pages the Kenya I came to know, but also the vanished Kenya of a century ago.

I love this story because it shows British people plunged into Kenyan life, having to adapt.

“I had never before seen heat, as you can see smoke or rain. But there it was, jigging and quavering above brown grasses and spiky thorn-trees and flaring erythrinas. if I could have stretched my hand out far enough I could surely have grasped it, a kind of colourless jelly." (p14)

And they adapt so well! Elspeth is only a child, fascinated by the world around her, and Robin and Tilly, her parents, are quite wonderful in the new life they make for themselves. I loved reading about the way they preserve some British customs and leave others behind. The ventures Tilly throws herself into. They become part of a community of British ex-pats, and these interactions between the adults, seen through a child's eyes, form the compelling “plot" of the book.

This is where I was when I was reading this book!
It's a beautifully written, evocative book. Gosh, this review is making me a bit sad! Kenya, take me back ...

“the crimson sky, the golden light streaming down the valley, and then its obliteration by the dusk, as if some great lamp had been turned down in the heavens, filled me with the terrible melancholy that sometimes wrings the hearts of children and can never be communicated or explained. It was as if the day, which was unique, and could never come again, had been struck down like the duiker [a type of deer] and lay there bleeding, and then had died with it, and could never be recalled. I felt it desperately important that the moment should be halted, the life of the day preserved, its death indefinitely postponed, and that the memory of every instant, of every fleck of colour in that tremendous sky, should be branded on my mind so as to become as much a part of my existence as an eye or hand." (p122)

But the moment cannot be halted. 1913 could not be halted, moving inexorably into the First World War; Huxley's childhood could not be halted. Nor could my time in Kenya, my advent to Oxford, the days and weeks that flash by us like the sun setting again and again.

A classic by a woman author // Mansfield Park

Austen is like a cup of tea and a biscuit and also a comet crashing into earth but without disturbing the cup-of-tea-biscuit-ness and I think that's pretty darned amazing.

Mansfield Park was my last unread Austen novel and, based on the other five, I had high expectations. They were met! Austen herself described this book as “not half so entertaining as Pride and Prejudice", but in my opinion that's pretty unfair. It has a slower pace than some of the other novels, and Fanny is certainly a different heroine to Lizzie Bennett or Emma Wodehouse. They remain my two favourites of Austen's heroines -- I just love their spunk! -- but Fanny Price is also pretty great. She is sweet and shy and quiet, but not annoying. She is admirable.

I found this book so compelling. That's why Austen is amazing. She writes novels set in the stifling world of eighteenth-century England, where so many people seem so preoccupied with husband-hunting and the purchase of new hats. And yet her novels are fresh, original and exciting. This one kept me hooked! And of course the writing was exquisite; on almost every page I would sit back thinking, “wow, that was a great sentence." I'm pretty certain that Austen is one of the all-time greats, and I can't wait to reread all her books.

Also, it contained this golden bit where one of the characters is talking about being ordained, and another is saying  “oh, not the clergy, so boring, go into the law instead!" And he says, pointing at the countryside in which they're walking:

 “Go into the law! You might as well tell me to go into this wilderness!"

I now say this to anyone who asks me if I've considered being a lawyer. (It happens pretty often.)


What are you reading at the moment? What's been the best book of the summer? Have you read any Old English lit? What's your favourite Austen novel? And which book has given you wanderlust?


  1. Here you are being all cultured and reading classics, and I'm reading the finest Y.A has to offer like, Eliza and Her Monsters, Stalking Jack the Ripper, etc.

    Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel, her books are so good.

    1. Hahaha I'm currently reading A Darker Shade of Magic so fear not! I love P&P. Can't decide if I love Emma more. Clearly I need to reread all of them to be sure! ;)

  2. I love this!! All of this! I love your comments about blogging -- it's something I've been figuring out lately for myself and you put it so eloquently, as always. I love your book stuff too! classics are my jam and Old English lit always brings me some happiness. <3

    1. Aimee, thank you so much! This is such a lovely comment. Classics are my jam, too (though I'm about to read Portrait of a Lady by Henry James which I'm less excited about ...). <3

  3. I might have to try that Viking epic - I do have British, Irish, and Scandinavian ancestors after all.

    Mansfield Park is actually one of the few Jane Austen novels I haven't read - one of these days I'll have to try it.

    1. I recommend! And Mansfield, too. Also, I know you've seen on GR but I've gotta say it again -- I'm reading Schwab!

  4. "Do you ever go around wishing you could blog/read blogs/paint/other random hobbies that aren't quite your Main Thing (my Main Things being writing, reading and academic work), and then when a sliver of time to do those things presents itself, you freeze, unable to decide how to fill it?" I'm afraid it's all too true.

    That viking epic looks...I want to say epic, but I hate puns. I wish my library had it- but alas, it doesn't.

    1. I'm glad that resonated with you, Blue! Keep looking out for it (it is pretty epic ahahhaaha). In Britain, it's part of a series called Little Black Classics that sell for 80p each -- a pretty good deal! -- but I'm not sure if they're available in Canada. (I think they are!)

  5. This challenge sounds like so much fun, I love the classics, and I adore Jane Austen. (That Viking Epic LOOKS AMAZING.)

    ~ noor

  6. I think at a certain point you just need to spend that free time on rest, for the sake of efficiency. It's tough to balance though. I just finished Neuromancer a few days ago for a class, and I'll be starting Snow Crash in the next couple days. They're both cyberpunk novels. I'm also reading Clariel and Frankenstein, as I mentioned before.

    1. You are right! BUT HOW DOES ONE REST?? More sleep? Read blogs to relax? Blog? Go on Pinterest? Type your novel that you handwrote in April and still haven't finished typing? THERE'S A LOT OF OPTIONS, PATRICK!

      Cyberpunk sounds interesting! I hope you enjoy Frankenstein in the end.

    2. It's always funny when someone actually uses your name at the end of a sentence for emphasis, hahaha. I usually lie down and watch television. It still stimulates my reader/writer brain, but it's stimulated in different sorts of ways, so it doesn't tire me out too badly. I also play musical instruments and sing. The uke is particularly great for resting because it's very low-maintenance.

    3. Hahaha I know, right, Patrick? XD I am not a massive fan of television. And sometimes even stories can be non-relaxing for me because it's kinda like work? I can't turn off my editor / I can't stop thinking about how many stars I'm going to rate a book on GR and what my review will say / all that stuff. Painting is a good way for me to disconnect from my reading/writing life, maybe similar to music for you.

  7. Whoa you changed your blog a lot! It'll take a while to get used to but I like it.

    I really like the idea of reading lots of classics. The most recent classic I read (which was this week. Yay!) was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and though it felt pretty rushed, I really liked it. I usually like the classics I read.

    I have yet to read Austen. I do have Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility but I need to actually read them soon! xD

    1. I did! I'm glad you like it, also that you think it looks different. I did like it before but I didn't like the name, but I decided if I was gonna change my name, I should change up the font and stuff. I even boldly moved my sidebar to the opposite side ... I'm wild.

      ME TOO! XD I've heard The Outsiders is good, I'd love to read it. And yes, I usually do, too, more than YA. Classics are more reliable!

      YEAH YOU DO. They're both such good books <33

  8. So on my blog feed, I was like "What is this Stranger Worlds? Emily? Wait, is that my Emily? Must investigate." LOVE THE NEW TITLE! It makes me think of fantasy and metafiction and such. Quite perfect.

    And then I saw "vikings" and was like VIKINGS, YEAH!! (*mentally yells and raises sword* because what else do you do to celebrate vikings?) I really have to read this viking book. Since taking a class with Icelandic Sagas and Beowulf and all the straightforward sass and Norse heroism, I need more of it in my life. (Fun note, I'm currently taking an Old English language course this semester. It's interesting, the language that is; the homework is just memorizing paradigms of nouns and verbs so far. But yeah, you basically get to learn why the current English language doesn't make sense. Always enlightening, that. XD)

    The Flaming Tree book, I think I might've seen a film adaption of it? But I'm not sure. It was a long time ago if I did, and I think it was told more from the wife's perspective for some reason, so maybe not?

    JANE AUSTEN! Seriously, that lady is awesome. If there were any past author I could have a chat with, it'd be Jane. To be completely honest though, I tried reading Mansfield Park maybe four or five years ago and didn't finish it. It was super slow, and I was tired of reading about their arguing back and forth without doing anything about it. I think I apologized out loud to Austen for not finishing it. Fanny is awesome though. I'll have to give the book another go some time. Love, love your bold-faced description of what Austen's writing is like. Much agreed!

    Ok, I've got to dash. I need to shower, and I've work at 5 am. What is this world coming to? 5 am! I might as well stay up all night. I hope uni is going well! As well as the whole choosing what to use your free time for (I have that conundrum all the time; it's disturbing).

    1. I flipping love this comment! I'm so glad you love my new name! So do I! Anyway, I MISS YOU, EMAIL ME OR COME TO OXFORD OR SOMETHING. AND YOU'RE STUDYING OE???!!! I'M STUDYING OE!!!!!! I have to translate The Wanderer for Friday! I'm learning paradigms! THIS IS SO FUN. We're like basically studying together *ahem*

      There was a film of it, which I'm not seen. The wife is kinda the MC in some ways. It's such a good book!

      I knoooow! I was at such a good exhibition about her (as you will know if you read my email!). It was fab! And yeah, she'd probs defs be my top choice for a dead author to meet. (Or maybe Shakey. Wait no, Ted. Obviously Ted. Flip there's a lot of them!) You should go back to Mansfield! It is slower than the rest, but Fanny is great and there's all these FAB hidden themes of slavery and all sorts and it's just, yeah, I love her. Wow, I love her ...

      5am?! That's barbaric! And I LOVE UNI. A lot! Thank you for this beaut comment <3

  9. EMILY SINCE WHEN DID YOU CHANGE YOUR BLOG NAME?!!?! I LOVE IT IT'S FANTASTIC! It's been a while since I've had the time to blog so when I started going through my reading list I was more than a bit confused at who this Stranger Worlds person was but obviously it's still you and still fabulous :) What made you decide to change?


Thanks for commenting! :)