Sunday, January 15, 2017

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith and The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines and Mark Dagostino

I love Jane Austen's novels.  Love.  They are where I go for comfort reading.  I tend to avoid modern retellings or sequels because I know that I will be disappointed.  However, when I came across Alexander McCall Smith's retelling of Emma, I knew I would have to give this one a try.  I have read several of his previous works including many from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and I have always enjoyed them.  I was hopeful.

Ultimately, I am glad I read it, but I was disappointed.  Part of my disappointment was of my own inability to draw the characters into the 21st century.  Each time a new character was introduced, my mind's eye immediately had them in late 17th century attire.  I had to force myself to put them into modern times.  It made reading it difficult because I was constantly realigning the setting.

I truly enjoyed the backstory the McCall Smith provided the characters with.  It was told with a great deal more detail and development than the original Emma.  In fact, it was this part of the book, which was about half of it, that I liked the best.  Once the story began the actual retelling part where Miss Taylor, whose character I found to be somewhat flat, finds herself in love with James Weston, that I started to dislike the book a bit.

I thought that the modern parallels were interesting, but they were not as interesting as the original and lacked development.  As I read, I attempted to judge it as a stand-alone story rather than something I already felt I knew.  That wasn't very satisfactory either though because I think I would have been even less content with this book without my understanding of the characters as they were developed by Austen.

I think the part that provided the greatest disappointment was that I can recall only two real conversations (maybe three) between Emma and George Knightly.  In fact, George Knightly was not in the book very much at all.  His presence felt forced and unnatural.  Their realization of loving each other was very anticlimactic because they had little interaction with each other throughout the book.

The best thing about reading McCall Smith's Emma is that it made me decide to finish rereading Austen's Emma that I began late last year.  I am going to reexamine the characters as I read, and I believe I will be able to do so with a fresh perspective.

Emma was has mostly been my nighttime reading.  During the day, I have been listening to Chip and Joanna Gaines read their book The Magnolia Story through Audible.  I got my husband an Amazon Dot for Christmas, and I love being able to listen to audio books on it.  The sound is great, and it is so easy to ask Alexa to start or start reading when it is convenient.

Memoirs read by their authors are my favorite audio books, and this one did not disappoint.  In fact, it exceeded my expectations.  I felt as though Chip and Joanna were sitting there with me rather than reading through a speaker.  It was a great way to pass the time as I worked, and I would enjoy listening to it again.

They each tell memorable moments from their lives, and, in the end, all of them are tied nicely together in a cohesive way.  I love Fixer Upper, and hearing more about the ups and downs, maybe the downs in particular, of their lives gave me a lot of insight into how they got to where they are now.  I appreciate the fact that they are both authentic and transparent about experiences they have had.  The way they shared their faith was meaningful and personal without being preachy.

The five hours I spent listening to The Magnolia Story passed too quickly.  I was sorry when it was over.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Emma.  With that said, I completed two books this week that I wanted to read, and I found enjoyment in both.

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