Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jane Eyre: A Call To Arms

I was up on the roof with some friends, and friends of friends, and conversation turned to Jane Eyre. Actually, I turned the conversation to Jane Eyre, which I've been trying to read, along with my book club, for the last two months.

Me: (casually) "So, have y'all read Jane Eyre?"

Everyone: (including some really masculine guys with deep voices and ESPN subscriptions): Resounding yes.

Girl named Amanda: "I've read it three times; it's my favorite book of all time!"

Crap. You can't throw a stone without hitting someone whose favorite book of all time is Jane Eyre. I mean, the book must rival the Holy Bible in terms of copies sold. But my book club (which, in all fairness, only consists of three people, including me) hasn't been able to get hooked. Why?

Me: "Yeah, well, I'm having trouble getting into it, because, you know, it's pretty slow, I mean the story doesn't start until page 100 or so, with Mr. Rochester's horse slipping on the ice scene" (murmurs from the crowd; one of the ESPN subscribers stares at me, looks away, and shakes his head sadly; I start to backpedal fast) - "I mean, what's wrong with me? This is obviously a great book, a seminal book, and I can't get into it. I think it might be because I already know the story? You know, I've seen a couple of movie and made-for-TV adaptations, and the story is such a big part of our culture, that maybe I just had expectations that were way too high..."

Everyone: (exchanging meaningful glances with each which clearly question my ability to participate in Western Civilization) "Jane Eyre is a great book... but it's not for everyone..." (like, not for dumbasses)

Me: "Yeah, because I read a lot of genre fiction, so I like stories that are fast paced." (This point is undermined by my participation in a previous discussion about Philip Roth. Damn!)

Amanda: "Well, you should read it in conjuction with The Wide Sargasso Sea, which is the story of the crazy lady in the attic."

God, a Jane Eyre spin off? I struggle to keep my mounting alarm off my face. Please, please don't let my book club find out about this...

Amanda: (beginning to truly feel sorry for me)"And I read Jane Eyre when I was on this whole women's studies kick..."

Yeah, the Brontes were real feminists for their time. "Their time" being a really long time ago. I'm a feminist, I love feminists, I love feminist books (most of them), but I want to read something more contemporary. Maybe if Jane Eyre was embroiled in a fight against her new evil and sexist health insurance company, which charges a minimum of $40.00 for birth control, and only five bucks for generic Viagra...now there's something I can really relate to. There's some feminism I can really get behind.

Me: "Yeah, I can see that, totally. It's just hard for me to read. And I really want to read it. The other night, I read thirty pages, and got this wonderful sense of accomplishment - I felt really fulfilled, in a literary way - like how you might feel after running a marathon, or scoring a goal" (my attempt at sports analogies and "literary stamina" go ignored), "but I still don't feel a strong urge to pick it back up."

Later, back in the apartment with my boyfriend, I can't let it go.

Boyfriend: "The problem is that you're reading it wrong. You can't just read it before bed, or on your lunch break, or when you have free time. You need to make a commitment. You need to read at least a hundred pages at a clip. You need to let yourself get lost in Jane Eyre's world."

My boyfriend is full of surprising and unacknowledged bursts of wisdom. I'm speechless.

But not for long.

Me: "Um, you're right. You're right. But look" (I can't stop myself, even though my arguments are getting thinner and thinner), "I think the real problem is that the two main characters are unattractive, and the narrator does nothing to hide that, and I'm a shallow 21st century bitch. I mean, look at this cover! Who wants to read about this girl?" (I am shaking the book precariously close to his calm and lovely face. Really, couldn't the Jane Eyre art department take a clue from Chick Lit?)

Boyfriend: (Shrugs). "I don't think she's unattractive. By the end, I thought she was attractive."

Great. I'm mildly disturbed by my boyfriend's taste in women, but I soldier on:

Me: "Maybe my problem with Jane Eyre is that I credit it with spawning the romance genre, and you know that I've been irrevocably traumatized by reading too many of my grandmother's romance novels at a young and tender and impressionable age..." (this is true, my Middle School Dating Strategies were formulated soley based on cowboy romances)

Boyfriend: "I don't think you can credit Jane Eyre with creating the whole romance genre. There were a lot of other authors who contributed..." (begins to list authors...I sigh loudly in defeat)

I'm all out of arguments. I must embrace Jane Eyre or alienate myself from all of my friends, to say nothing of Western Culture. All at once, I feel a surge of sympathy for Tall Katie, a friend I had years ago who claimed to dislike Catch 22. Obviously, we knew she was just lying to get attention. How is it possible to feel anything but intense love and admiration for Catch 22?!

This is a call to arms. All who are struggling through Jane Eyre unite! All who have lied about having read this book, and having loved it, tell your story as an anonymous comment! I know I'm not alone! I can't be the only one.

In the meantime, I will keep on trying. Our book club has set a deadline of July 15th: Jane Eyre or bust.


Kris aka theWireSmith - Bookmarque said...

I tried many times to read JE and gave up. Then I found it on Recorded Books and listened to it. It was an OK story, not as exasperating as Tess, but it had it's moments when I wanted to take Jane and shake the living daylights out of her. Overall it has the 'downtrodden will be victorious in time' theme going on, which is somewhat satisfying.

Maybe you could get it on Audible or Recorded Books & listen to it by the 15th.

The Bibliophile said...

I am one of those folks who has yet to read Jane Eyre, though luckily I've escaped conversations like the one you described. It's on my list of Books To Read One Day, but it isn't that far up there. Man, your boyfriend sure does sound knowledgeable about the romance genre! Very impressive.

Thanks for recommending Cosmic Banditos -- any book that's both funny and discusses seminal physics experiments is fine by me!

FaeEnsorcelled said...

I have yet to read Jane Eyre. It's one of those books on the list of "should read" but so many more appealing books come first.

But here's the thing. If you read it and hate it, should you really feel bad just because the masses like it? The masses also like Bounty Hunter and Dancing with the Stars. And you have to figure, half of the people who say they like it do so because they think they are supposed to.

So how about this: the summer after I graduated college I read The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby and Cat's Cradle. I loved Cat's Cradle, was luke-warm about Gatsby, but here's the kicker: I hated The Catcher in the Rye. HATED it. I thought Holden was a self-entitled, spoiled little brat and I wanted to slap him.

So there it is. Don't know if that helps or hurts, but I tried.

On a side note, I can't wait to read Sharp Objects, which I've ordered based on your review. It sounds deliciously nasty.

I sometimes think that while it's important to read and remember the "classics," putting too much focus on them keeps people from creating new classics.

BookCannibal9 said...

thorn: such good advice. I really should get an audible.com subscription, or a library card, because I simply refuse to pay 30+ bucks for an audiobook. Will look into it ASAP!

bibliophile: first of all, I can't believe "bibliophile" wasn't already taken on blogger - that's an accomplishment all by itself - why didn't I think of that one?! And I love that you read THE EYRE AFFAIR w/o having read JE either! I felt bad about possibly missing some references, but not bad enough to read JE until now.

My boyfriend is a know-it-all.

chelsea: I think certain books should have age groups or maximum ages on the back, like how they do with children's books - middle grade, tween, YA, etc., but they should do it for adult books too, like CATCHER IN RYE, which I have fond memories of reading in HS, but I wonder, would I love it now, w/o every boy in class slouched over saying "that kills me."? I had never been to New York then, and had this idea of central park as a couple of trees around a duck pond. NO > 19

Likewise, I didn't fully understand THE GREAT GATSBY - and the concept of old money - until I moved here.

A couple of years ago I picked up THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, struggled through about half of it, and concluded that I had just missed the boat on it. But if I had read that book in college, I think I would have loved it. That book should def have a maximum age: NO > 24.

CATS CRADLE and SLAUGHTER HOUSE FIVE are the only Kurt Vonnegut titles I haven't read!

Let me know what you think of SHARP OBJECTS...

riese said...

Obviously, I found it less-than-engaging. However I late enrolled for a Women in Lit class and therefore, in order to catch up, had to read the whole g-ddamn thing in three days. I still remember that because everyone who knew me (as I have a habit of complaining loudly/publicly) was like, well aware of this situaiton. "Have you finished Jane Eyre?" Anyway, as a feminist, I would say: totes retarded. Also, as a speaker of the English language (relatively), I would say that anyone using the term "totes retarded" does not necessarily posess a "valuable opinion" on anything, let alone English literature.

FaeEnsorcelled said...

Maybe that is it with The Catcher in the Rye. I think I might have liked it at 14, when I thought my childhood had ended and with it, my happiness.

Cat's Cradle is great. It makes such a strong statement in a short period of time. Really makes you think about those 1,000 page novels that take up all that space pounding the same idea into you over and over *cough* Atlas Shrugged *cough*.

I am 25 (ok, 26 on Tuesday!) but maybe I have time to get into The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Should I risk it? Heh.

Isn't it funny how some adult novels only speak to us in our youth, but then there are YA books or books originally written for kids that that can resonate within an adult for an entire lifetime?

Angelle Haney Gullett said...

I faked reading this book for years. I tried it a couple of times, got bored, put it down, until about a year ago. I picked it up again and managed to read it in four days (not as fast as riese, but still pretty respectable). Skimming whenever I got bored was almost certainly involved. But I enjoyed it and it didn't feel like a duty; it felt like what it should be, reading for pleasure.

I don't remember the language, not one single metaphor or descriptive passage. I seem to have about five major plot points in my head, possibly out of order.

Can I really say I read the book? Sure. Did I get out of it what I needed, which was the reference points to participate in conversation with literate people? You bet.

Just do your bit and cross it off your to-do list. There's no great moral failing in not liking a book.

Writer, Rejected said...

You are fresh! Love the blog, BC. I'm adding you to my blogroll. I read JE for a women's studies class....can you imagine anything more dull in your life? Hey, BTW, check out my blog: Literary Rejections On Display. www.literaryrejectionsondisplay.blogspot.com Would love to have your saucy take on the matter.

BookCannibal9 said...

Thanks for the support, everyone. I'm going to keep on reading and waiting for JE to open like flower. I'll keep y'all posted!

Anonymous said...

Hi BC,

I know I'm a little late but I've just discovered your blog and...well, I'm one of those people who sometimes say that JE is my favorite book of all time. Now that I know about that stone-throwing thing, though, I might not say that out loud anymore. Rats. I didn't know there were so many of me.

Anyway, not to try and talk you into liking it more but my experience with the book is that I had to agree with myself to SLOW DOWN and move at Charlotte's pace. That helped, because then I stopped missing all the funny stuff -- there's lots of that (favorite scene: when she's telling him she's leaving see her sick aunt and he's being all cute and flirtatous and she's thinking, "when's he gonna move out of my way?")

AND, if you're still listening, I just want to say too, that I think she's a great feminist, and not just "for the time." Jane can only claim her fortune by admitting her true identity -- and what could be more (sigh, sniff!) feminist and just plain old right than that?

Okay. Now you like it better, right?

Love your writing! Great blog!

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