Adventures in Reading


Search Engine Terms

Bride of Frankenstein
The fact that “bride of frankenstein” has somewhat regularly appeared on my list of search engine terms (77 times at least!) can only mean one thing: there is not nearly enough material out there on her! My Frankenstein information is limited to Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s Frankenstein: A Cultural History. However, for you film buffs there is some interesting tidbits from the 1935 filming of The Bride of Frankenstein: the actress Elsa Lanchester played both Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the monster bride. It’s also entirely her hair combed over a metal cage.

Rococo Art
“Rococo” has appeared roughly 1,000 times, which is pretty sweet. Rococo art is one of my favorite periods of art though it’s often looked over as being over decorative and certainly careless of the political and social stresses of the period it developed in. One commonly discussed painting from the period is Fragonard’s The Swing.

Madame Bovary
I read Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert a few months ago and it was phenomenal. It’s a beautifully written novel and one I greatly enjoyed.



Fiction: Brick Lane by Monical Ali

I was at an awards dinner recently when a professor mentioned Brick Lane and I interjected, “Oh right, by Monica Ali.” Brick Lane is one of those books that I have intended, and meant, and had all the best wishes to read, but alas it promptly found a home on my shelves and started to collect dust. At least until this dinner and then I promised myself that I would get around to reading Brick Lane before the summer was out.

Brick Lane is the story of Nazneen, a girl from a Bangladeshi village that has an arranged marriage and finds herself in London. Nazneen’s life is interwoven with the fatalism her mother so strongly believed in. When Nazneen was born she was ill and wouldn’t eat, but her mother refused to take her a hospital and swore fate would decide whether Nazneen lived or died. This fatalism follows Nazneen to England and pursues her for much of her life. In contrast, is Nazneen’s sister Hasina. The reader learns of Hasina through Nazneen’s flashbacks and from letters the two sisters’ write. Hasina never relies on her fate and as the more impetuous of the two sisters, she arranges her own marriage and ran away from home.

Nazneen’s story almost entirely unfolds in the small apartment her and her husband Chanu share. Through the birth of three children and the death of one, through her husband’s loan problems, to Nazneen’s affair with a younger man, specific poignant issues move the story and develop the relationships between the characters.

One thing about Brick Lane is that I never really felt as if there was any movement of time. Obviously there was, by the end of the novel Nazneen has had three children and the oldest surviving child is in her early teens. Much of the novel’s time is ushered through a series of letters from Hasina and the reader is kept aware of time from the dates on the letters. But the reader actually experiences very little time in the book. Four three-fourths of the book, Nazneen remains very much the same as she did when she first arrived from the village. There are small suggestions of time, such as the apartment accumulating furniture, but perhaps these were simply too subtle or at least did not greatly effect the characters.

I can’t help but compare Ali to Jhumpa Lahiri if only because they have both written on immigrants from a similar area of the world, but another terrific author also born in Dhaka, Bangladesh is Tahmima Anam. Anam’s first book A Golden Age is “set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh War of Independence” and is a superb novel too.

P.S. Roger Ebert recently posted a review of the movie, which also has some great additional information about the novel.



Revisted: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

In high school I switched English levels, which left me lacking in a lot of classic high school reads. This includes authors from Twain to Salinger and just about every generic book that someone says: “Oh, I read that in high school.” This weekend I finally gave in to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter and it was brilliant. His short piece The Custom House precedes the story and it was so descriptive and funny and that’s certainly one adjective (funny) that I’ve never heard paired with Hawthorne. Most everyone seems to be familiar with the plot (especially after the 1995 film) and it all together is a rather simple story line: a married woman whose husband has disappeared has an affair and becomes pregnant. She’s forced to wear the letter A in scarlet on her bosom as punishment. From here some fabulous ideas of witchcraft and black magic pepper the story and leads to a great ending.

Over the years I’ve been slowly reading the multitude of books everyone else read in high school. For example, I still have yet to read Of Mice & Men and people accuse me of being a bad English major for this. (To which I reply that I’ve read the likes of I Am A Cat, Gargantua & Pantagruel, and Tristram Shandy and these are only a few of the titles that I can boast!) But I really enjoyed The Scarlet Letter and most recently was interested by Hawthorne’s essay on his own writing.