Hay-on-Wye – The Town of Books and Pictures of People Reading Books

Hay-on-Wye, town of books

Today I’d like to refer you to my post on Hay-on-Wye, Wales – the town of books on my travel blog Wandering Mee. I’m going to write in more details about the author events I went to, just for y’all bookish people, but for now, enjoy the story and the pictures of this lovely town :)

Another awesome thing that I found today was the series of pictures of people reading book around the world by the renown photographer Steve McCurry, the person who took picture of the Afghan Girl. Such a fantastic idea – which I would probably try to do too in my next travels. Below are a few of my favorites. Head to his blog to see more.

Afghanistan, 06/1992. A boy reads to his class.
Afghanistan, 06/1992. A boy reads to his class. Credit: Steve McCurry


A woman reads in the light coming through a window. Credit: Steve McCurry
Thailand. A woman reads in the light coming through a window. Credit: Steve McCurry


Russia. A woman reads under a purple umbrella. Credit: Steve McCurry
Russia. A woman reads under a purple umbrella. Credit: Steve McCurry

And the last one from yours truly :)

Wales, UK. Woman reading while waiting for her phone charging. Credit: Wandering Mee
Wales, UK. A woman reads while waiting for her phone charging. Credit: Dioni Zhong

At one magical instant  the page of a book –
that string of confused, alien ciphers–shivered into meaning. 

Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment,
whole universes opened. 

You became, irrevocably, a reader.
– Alberto Manguel


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (And More About Coursera Courses)

Jane Eyre

For the second week of reading in the Fiction of Relationship class, we are tackling Jane Eyre. Now I actually started Jane Eyre two years ago, and since then had been reading it on and off. I got stuck at 80% for a long time, and I finally finished it for the class. It’s not that I had specific problem with the book that it took me so long to finish it. I just had problem with the sheer length of it. It is very very LONG! My Vintage copy is 600 pages long. Reading it on Kindle too seems to take forever to move forward. I read pages and pages, and the percentage didn’t go up 1%!

The story itself I really like — a lot more than Pride and Prejudice for instance. Jane Eyre as a character is feisty and courageous. She is cast away as a child and goes through a lot of troubles growing up. The writing is brilliant, it’s almost hard to believe that someone could write that well.

I’m going to talk a bit about the structure of the book, so minor spoilers ahead.

Jane Eyre is roughly divided into three sections. First part for Jane growing up. Second part for Jane with Mr Rochester. Third part is when Jane leaves to become independent. So in short, pre-Rochester, mid-Rochester, and post-Rochester. My problem finishing it was that mainly I found the second part the most interesting, while the first and the third somewhat boring. Now I’m not usually the type of reader who longs for romance story, but honestly with Jane Eyre, it’s like everything dies when I entered the third part along with my desire to continue the book.

I think this is probably a common problem with reading a thick classic. There are interesting parts, and there are boring parts. The time when Jane was confronting Rochester and in deep inner conflict about doing the right thing was mighty interesting. I flew by it. But when it got into a slump, I just thought I would never get through it.

To conclude, Jane Eyre is an excellent literature for classes and book groups. There are a lot to discuss and talk about, layers upon layers, it might be never ending.

I still think the book is too long though…

Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë

I read Wuthering Heights quite a while ago and loved it. I heard that you either love Wuthering Heights and hate Jane Eyre or the other way around. I can see where this comment comes from, as the two books cannot be more different! It is somewhat mind-boggling that the Brontës are sisters.

The 2011 Movie

jane eyre 2011 movie

I watched the 2011 Jane Eyre movie with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. The movie makers seem to agree with me that the first and third part of the book are rather boring, since they cut them really short. In fact the ending felt really abrupt. It was pretty good movie though, and worth watching in my opinion.

I’ve been following Mia since The Kids Are All Right and I think she’s a little under appreciated as an actress (while Jennifer Lawrence is probably over-hyped — I don’t get how the whole world seems to get almost over obsessed with her). Mia fits her role well as “plain” Jane, while Michael Fassbender is great as Rochester. Fassbender is bit of hit and miss for me, but here he’s really perfect as rough rich Rochester. Approval from Mee!

More About the Courses

To share with you a bit about the reading in the Fiction of Relationship course, these are the books in the schedule:

Module One (all free on the Internet)
Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut (1731)
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847)
Herman Melville’s Bartleby (1853) and Benito Cereno (1855)
Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (1915) and “A Country Doctor” (1919)
Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse (1927)

Module Two (have to buy)
William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932)
Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones (1956)
Tarjei Vesaas’ The Ice Palace (1963)
J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999)
Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987)

Seemingly a bit mental, I joined another class on coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, that requires reading of the following:

  1. Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales (Lucy Crane translation with Walter Crane illustrations)
  2. Carroll — Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  3. Stoker — Dracula (This reading is somewhat longer than most of the others. You may want to begin it in advance.)
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems (Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse includes “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and “The Artist of the Beautiful” and his Twice-Told Tales includes “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”; The Portable Poe includes all the suggested Poe stories and poems
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, “The Country of the Blind,” “The Star”
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles (not available for legal, free download)
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness (not available for legal, free download)
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother (This reading is somewhat longer than most of the others. You may want to begin it in advance.)

I’m positive that I won’t be able to go through all those (the Fantasy and Science Fiction one especially requires TONS of reading – I’ve checked the length of each), but the courses really pique my interest about reading some of the books mentioned.

If you’re inclined, you should be able to just check out the lecture videos, because they’re both excellent. I love both professors. They seem to be really passionate about teaching and the text, and you do get more understanding by listening to their discussions of the books / short stories. I got really inspired to read more, especially the classics. Most important of all, it’s all FREE! Thank you coursera :)


Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost

Manon Lescaut

I’ve finished Manon Lescaut, surprise surprise! Remember last week I told you that I was delighted to be able to finish Animal Farm? I seem to have picked up a momentum and finish another book. Apparently short book and deadline are the key (the deadline is for The Fiction of Relationship coursera course which I also mentioned last time). Can’t be happier!

Manon Lescaut (original title: L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut) is a French 18th century classic (published 1753), which is relatively unknown today, but it was a popular novel at the time, much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Somewhat comparable to R+J since it is also story of a couple, Manon Lescaut is different in a lot of ways. In fact I probably wouldn’t compare the two at all. For one, R+J is a play while Manon Lescaut was written as novel. The story is told purely from the side of the male lover. It injects controversial ideas for its time and was banned upon publication.

I have to say that it took me the entire book to warm up to the protagonist. Most of the time I wanted to slap him in the head and my eyes rolled to the back of my head at times by how dramatic he could be. The man is so passionately and foolishly in love with the woman, Manon, that he appears to be delusional. Manon is not on the higher ground, as she is the equivalent of a high-class prostitute or courtesan. The book felt high-charged erotically though nothing is ever explicit and everything is shown to be chaste (probably typical of works in that era).

Though short and with the incentive of the course coverage, I don’t think I’d be able to finish it if Manon Lescaut weren’t good in itself. The story has a nice pace, the language — dramatic and translation as it is — is interesting to read, and you do want to know what happens to the characters next. The last probably is the most important factor of them all to make you keep reading.

The complexity of the book, the layers, the human relationship, and the portrayed society would surely be discussed more in the class. But purely as a novel I thought Manon Lescaut delivers, and I quite like how it is ended.

Abbé Prévost
Abbé Prévost (1697-1763)

Now to finish Jane Eyre for the second week. I’ve been 80% in since last year…

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