Hot tea, Jane Austen, and Perfect Summer Reading

As summer begins to wane and I log onto my fall semester, I’m thinking about all of the things that I need to do for school and all of the things that I didn’t do over the summer. In order to improve my mind, I wanted to read feminist novels, listen to podcasts, and watch international films, a few of which I did.

I listened to “guilt and shame,” a British podcast recommended by my girl Phoebe Waller-Bridge, in which three friends discuss the things that people typically feel guilty and shameful about, and for when I was feeling more serious, I listened to “Rabbit Hole,” by the New York Times and “The West Wing Weekly.” I finally watched “Parasite” and then subsequently wondered where it’d been all my life. It’s one of those films that you want to go back over and study in forensic-detail. My mother and I watched “Killing Eve,” a female-anti-hero show that was also created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, because I’d follow that woman to the ends of the earth.

I wanted to spend the summer watching all of Jane Fonda’s most famous movies, starting with her Oscar nominated films, but since streaming services make you pay for them and my DVD player is now busted, it wasn’t in the cards for me. Instead, I watched M.A.S.H, in search of some nuanced takes on the consequences of warfare and out of a desire to see why this show still has the world record for most watched finale. I’ve also been working on works of art that I’ve become quite proud of, or as Jane Austen would put it “I’ve been more agreeably engaged.”

My best painting thus far.

At night, I lulled myself to sleep with my meditation “calm” app’s “sleep stories,” where Harry Styles reads soothing poetry sotto-voce in his crisp, sultry diction. The app encourages me to fall in love with the voice of Harry Styles and to think and dream about him as I fall asleep, as if I haven’t been doing that for years. Just as Harry Styles whispers sweet nothings to me to help me fall asleep, some days, I consult my horoscope app “Co-star” so that it can give me a nondescript assessment of how I’m fairing. I’m pleased to report that there’s nothing out of the ordinary for yours truly, just your run of the mill “you might be conflicted this week” or better yet “you will be receiving strength from an unlikely source this week.”

A voice like liquid-gold!

Every few days, I picked a new mystery tea flavor from the collection of tea that my aunt sends me from Asia. It’s worth mentioning though that they are only mystery flavors to me, because, alas, I do not speak Mandarin. 

A bit of wisdom, written in English, on my tea bag

I told myself that because I spent last summer reading classics: The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, The Great Gatsby, and The Awakening, that I would spend this summer reading more modern novels. I then proceeded to read “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.

Having previously read “Mansfield Park” for a literature class, I decided that now would be a good time to start sticking it to the man with “Pride and Prejudice.” I know that it must seem cliche to have a young female writer resonate with Elizabeth Bennett and be swept away by Mr. Darcy, but I believe that “Pride and Prejudice” is one of those rare novels that ages incredibly well. Despite the fact that it is over two hundred years old it might even be more relevant today than it was when it first came out. Mr. Darcy is a selfish and entitled man who exudes toxic masculinity, having never been talked down to or not given what he wants in his whole life. He gets called out for his toxic behavior by a woman that he greatly admires, and instead of getting haughty or pissy, he rectifies his behavior by amending the things that troubled her in the first place and by handling a predator that he let walk free for the past few years. 

Now I can finally wear my “Pride and Prejudice” gloves. Or at least I will be able to when the weather gets cooler

Another thing that I don’t think that people recognize enough about this novel is the fact that it is in large part a story about familial love. Lizzy turns down a marriage proposal from the most eligible man possible, in large part out of solidarity with her sister. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, falls deeper in love with Elizabeth when he sees the relationship his sister has with her. The way to both their hearts is through their sisters. 

I bought “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility” to read next but decided instead to actually try to read modern novels. That way I wouldn’t walk around using big words like “felicity” and “countenance,” as if my name were in the book of the landed gentry. I bought “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng and “Normal People” by Sally Rooney. Despite being brand new, these novels were by no means frivolous. “Little Fires Everywhere” probes the ideas of privilege and family dynamics, as well as motherhood and pregnancy, although not in a warm and fuzzy way. Next, I read “Normal People” by Sally Rooney, which I have heard jokingly referred to as “Call-Me-By-Your-Name-but-for-straight-people.” “Normal People” seems to be one of those novels that was supposed to be a love story, but nothing remotely romantic happens to them. 

Two modern bestsellers living in harmony on my bedside table

It is a will-they-won’t-they story, about a couple that has an on-again-off-again, yet I never understood why they had to tease out the drama by being estranged from one another. Despite my best efforts to stay clear of 19th century realist novels, this novel opens with a quotation from George Elliot about how every person meets one person who touches their life in a perfect way. From the opening epithet to the last page, the novel clings to the idea that every person out in the world has someone to complete them. In other words, I was biased against it from the start, because I have never subscribed to the notion that you are incomplete until you’ve met the right person. 

The way I see it, you are nothing if not alone in this world. From the moment you enter crying to the moment you lay dying you have nothing but your own thoughts and your own actions, regardless of how many people you surround yourself with. 

Though I was assured that I would read it all in one sitting, I couldn’t bring myself to read this large-print 270 page book in under a week. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to read this book. Whenever I don’t read more than 10 pages in a single sitting, I feel like a dilettante who can’t sit down with a good book. I wanted to read “The Summer I Turned Pretty” by Jenny Han before school started up again, but I guess I’ll just have to wait, now that my days will be filled with reading and writing original short stories and plowing through some ancient Greek literature.

More on that later.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel 

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