books nostalgia

Pride & penguins

Parcels from publishers are no real novelty at my work; we recieve at least a handful of books each week, all hoping for reviews. This glut of books is at once a luxury and a little bit of a waste… one can become a little careless with books when they come too easily. Just as you never appreciate a cold beer like you do after a day of hard work, books seem somehow sweeter when you’ve had to earn them. Not that today’s gift required strenuous labour…

I had all but forgotten signing up to be part of the promotion for 75 new Popular Penguins. You know the ones – they’re only $10, they’re classic titles and they have those fabulous orange covers that are at once timeless and totally retro. The good folks at Penguin had the fun idea of getting 75 people in each state to pose with the books. Ultimately 75 would have the new titles photoshopped in and become part of a video.

I didn’t make the cut. Just when I thought maybe I hadn’t missed the boat on being discovered as a super (book) model… nope, that ship had sailed and I remained flustered and unphotogenic in its wake. But I still got to choose two books and a cute little Penguin bag! So my next reads are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Northanger Abbey. It’s the only Jane Austen I’ve not yet read, so really looking forward to it.

Like so many girls, bookish and otherwise, Austen has been a huge part of my life. I still remember vividly when the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice first screened on TV. It was the bonnet drama that stopped a nation. At that point in the mid 1990s I was still a rangy barefoot tomboy, mortified to the point of having to cover my eyes and blush profusely if a kissing scene came on TV. But while it was some years before I truly appreciated Colin Firth in a wet shirt, I loved every second of P&P.

Later mum bought all six glorious hours on VHS, and my sister and I learned every word (suprisingly the ability to quote Lady Catherine de Burgh at will has actually made me new friends, though I must say this doesn’t work at every party). Our Barbie dolls didn’t swan around Malibu or Surfers Paradise; they sported incongruous tans for Regency England and squabbled over bonnets. We did take some poetic licence in our dollhouse re-enactments; we thought Mary Bennet should marry the odious Mr Collins, though when we grew sick of him he became the victim of an unfortunate pianoforte-falling-out-a-second-storey-window accident.

When we studied the text in high school english, I was shocked that there were girls who’d never seen the series, let alone sung along with the jaunty opening titles in feverish anticipation at what was to come. I found myself feeling desperately protective of the adaptation, particularly when my schoolgirl compatriots thought the actress playing Jane wasn’t hot enough to be the beauty of the family. Lizzie Bennet is surely the most irresistible literary heroine of all time, however, and when my classmates fell for her in their turn I looked on knowingly, with a sense of smug pride I’ve since come to associate with introducing friends to a charming suitor you still can’t quite believe is yours.

Sure, we all like to think of ourselves as Lizzie but few of us can really come close. Personally I think I’m more like docile Jane, if she were uglier; or slutty, inappropriate Lydia if she had more of a misanthropic streak. At any rate, I will oblige my mother with many years yet of fretting about having to support me as an old maid…

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