Jane Eyre is Genre Fiction

Jane Eyre is Genre Fiction | Lexie Winslow

She sure looks like a witch to me.

It has been ten years since I first read Jane Eyre, and I’ve come to conclusion that we’re all having the wrong conversation about it. This book belongs on the Fantasy or Horror shelf.

Full disclosure: I have a complex relationship with Jane Eyre. I appreciate it, but I’m no fan girl by any stretch of the imagination. Jane Eyre literally puts a bad taste in my mouth, or at least a weird one—the most pronounced experience of lexical-gustatory synesthesia I’ve ever had. Even thinking about it for too long brings it back. To be honest, it’s tough for me to get through the book from cover to cover: I always skim her time with the Rivers family. The plot operates on a spectrum, with cold, introspective boredom at one end and hair-raising horror on the other end, and it always leaves me kind of baffled. [Read more…]

Great Procedurals and the Downfall of Crime Shows

Great Procedurals and the Downfall of Crime Shows | Lexie WinslowI’ve given the Elementary/Highlander hybrid Forever a chance this fall because I am going through a huge mystery phase, and I’ve been a Ioan Gruffudd fan since his turn as Horatio Hornblower in the ‘90s. Besides, it feels like there isn’t much else on. But the series has crystallized for me the difficulty of watching dramas with shoddy police work in this age of great procedurals. The triumph of simultaneously accurate and compelling television writing these days means that lazier crime plotting ranks somewhere between distracting and unforgivable. [Read more…]

How I Curate My Reading List

How I Curate My Reading List | Lexie WinslowI basically divide the books I read into three categories: so-called important books that I read to stay current with the literary community at large; interesting nonfiction, typically fixated on one topic at a time; and books that I think I’ll really love.

The first grouping is the easiest to identify. They’re the “it” books. These are the book titles that pop up everywhere, from Tumblr to publishing industry newsletters. The authors appear on podcasts, Twitter chats, even on television from time to time. The bestseller and award lists bear these books’ titles. Sometimes they don’t deserve the hype, but when they do, it’s wonderful to be swept up in the communal excitement. If you don’t keep up with these books, you get left behind. Lately, I’m growing more comfortable with being out of the loop on these reader fads. I figure I can just catch the next one. [Read more…]

Little Finn

Little Finn | Lexie WinslowBy my count, my family has adopted 13 cats since I was born (and I’m probably forgetting a couple). We are exclusively a pet adoption family, going to a local shelter when a new space opens up in the roster. Although more often than not, unwanted pets find their way to us regardless of our desire to add to the brood. Like the time our very independent Maine Coon cat went on an extended tour of the neighborhood, prompting us to put up “Missing” posters, and when our Coon came back a week later our neighbors had gifted us with three other brown striped cats in his absence.

Each of the cats in this baker’s dozen has had a unique personality, and a slightly different relationship to all of the human members of the family, but over time a few cats have stood out from the pack. One of those stars is Finn. [Read more…]

Janet Hill’s World of Elegant Whimsy

The English Major by Janet HillYou should check out Janet Hill’s artwork if any of the following things interest you: oil paintings, portraits, readers, lion tamers, dancers, dogs, midcentury fashion, acrobats, beautiful homes, or any and all things twee.

I can’t quite remember what led me to discover Janet Hill, but I absolutely remember the first painting of hers that I saw, appropriately titled “The English Major.” I knew I had to see more. It turned out that Hill had a great website to showcase her work, including a lively blog. I loved the gallery of paintings depicting glamorous young women in Pinterest-worthy dream homes, and, most of all, the whimsical twist thrown into many scenes: a lion here, a flying woman there. [Read more…]

TiMER, the Best Little Indie on Netflix

TiMER A Netflix Gem | Lexie WinslowArguably, the best part about streaming entertainment services today is the ability to find modest, well-made independent movies (and albums and web shows) that would have been impossible to discover through traditional channels. Case in point: TiMER. Without Netflix, I never would have found this gem. But one boring evening I gave this relatively anonymous indie a chance, and I’m glad I did, because it’s basically the sweetest, smartest little movie you’ve never heard of.

The basic premise of TiMER is that the whole world is obsessed with a device that affixes to the wrist and, using amazing technology, identifies the exact moment when you will find your soulmate. It’s a little stopwatch counting down the seconds until you meet your destiny. [Read more…]

Sugar Pop

I love pop music. I think it’s amazing how the formula of a basic song structure and a handful of chords can yield such a vast and varied catalog of songs. Sure, it’s light and sweet, and a little artificial these days with canned beats and auto tuning, but you’ve got to admit that pop music is so fun. Putting on this playlist gets me in the happiest mood, no matter what. [Read more…]

Career vs. Day Job

Career vs Day Job | Lexie WinslowI’m always curious to note the vocabulary that people use when they talk about how they spend their time. Is your occupation a career or a day job? Is your creative outlet your hobby or your true calling? Which one is your real work? It might seem like semantics to some people, but I find it fascinating.

We’re in a new economy of slash careers, like mine: ghostwriter/website manager/content strategist/social media specialist. Likewise, in this age of instant connection and endless resources, any mild interest can become a passion. With a few clicks of the mouse you can find supplies, advice, a mentor, a community, and anything else you might need to dive into a new hobby. We’re no longer a population defined by one occupation, or an occupation and a hobby—we’re a generation of multi-hyphenates.

The sticking point about this departure from tradition is the sense of divided loyalty. [Read more…]

A New Appreciation for YouTube

New Appreciation for YouTube | Lexie WinslowI was very late to the YouTube party. Obviously I’ve used it since 2006 just like everyone else, but for me it was never more than the biggest video content warehouse on the web. It came in handy for quick software how-to tutorials and music videos. Other people I knew logged hours of free time on YouTube in an endless stream of epic fail compilations and ‘90s movies supercuts and footage of weird athletic achievements. I didn’t see the appeal.

That all changed for me with the Pride and Prejudice web series adaptation, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. (Yes, another important cultural discovery made possible by Jane Austen. The woman is the gift that keeps on giving.) [Read more…]

My Least Favorite Book

My Least Favorite Book | Lexie WinslowBefore you get too excited, I want to start this post with a disclaimer that my least favorite book is, in my opinion, a pretty lousy book. This might seem like the mother of all redundancies, but I still feel that it needs to be said.

When people talk about least favorites in pop culture in general, and when I have talked about least favorites in my life in particular, the listeners seem to perk up, their appetites whetted for something salacious, thinking, “This is going to be good.” But I’m not writing this post about a book that I think is bad in an awesome way. I’m writing this post about a book that I have read twice, and hated twice. So, if you rush to the library and grab a copy and race through it, only to get to the end feeling deflated about the world and cheated out of some perfectly good reading hours, don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you still aren’t dissuaded, then I’ll tell you now that I’m going to go into the plot in detail, so consider yourself spoiled if you read on.

The book in question is called Waterland. It was written by Graham Swift and published by Vintage in 1983. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the UK’s fanciest literary award. In my experience, it is very popular with men born in the 1960s, particularly those who happen to teach 10th grade English at my high school or 20th Century British Literature at my college. Waterland is preferred by educators for its combination of readability and literary caliber. Apparently, it appeals to the readers as well as the critics, making a statement about the experience of a certain time (the 20th century) in a certain place (East Anglia, England), delivering a tightly contained narrative with universal echoes. Analytically, I understand its merits. I just dislike it.

The narrative of Waterland shifts between two different time frames in Tom Crick’s life, a normal day turned disastrous in his present, and a reminiscence of his teenage years, with a generous dose of East Anglian history included as well. East Anglia is dominated by an unusual type of terrain, known as fens, sort of a cold marsh that is just barely stable enough to build on. The fens are flat, monotone, oppressive. Tom and his friends are restless, growing up in a place that feels frozen in time. Tom’s brother Dick has mental retardation, their mother died years ago, and their father is a slave to the tides, manning the canal next to their home. Things get interesting for Tom when his (also motherless) neighbor Mary initiates a relationship. Their innocent love takes on a menacing quality when Mary fixates on having sex with Dick; later, her further manipulations lead Dick to kill another boy in the town. Mary falls pregnant, and in the midst of the already chaotic situation she takes steps to deliberately miscarry the baby. In the present-day storyline, Tom Crick and Mary are married, middle-aged and childless. Their quiet life is shattered when Mary sneaks a baby out of an unattended shopping cart and wanders off with it, initiating a major police and media response. The book ends with Mary, clearly unhinged, getting arrested.

We can talk about prose and atmosphere and nonlinear storytelling all day, but I will never have a positive reaction to this book. There is no foothold for me in this story, no place for me to grip. I hate the deliberate drudgery of it. I hate the disdain Tom inspires in so many of the people around him. I hate how he stands by as Mary demolishes his life over and over again. I hate the monotony of the fens, and the passage discussing pubic hair. I hate its sterile tone (no pun intended). I hate its post-modern sequence of impulsive self-destruction, ennui, and emotionless catastrophe.

Obviously, the book is as much about Mary as it is about Tom, perhaps moreso. I’ve never quite been able to tell if she is meant to be an anti-hero, or a victim, but I have never been able to see her as anything but the villain. Maybe part of it is being raised in the ‘90s, but I find Mary’s attraction to Dick and subsequent—what to call it? seduction? molestation? rape?—intensely disturbing. I know developmental delays have been viewed differently in different times, and that both characters are teenagers (so equally unable to understand consent, I guess?), but the fact that Mary targets a mentally retarded boy for a sexual relationship is disgusting. It completely throws me out of the book. Even with antiquated social mores, the relationship is clearly beyond Dick’s comprehension, and on top of that, he is the brother of her boyfriend. How is this not wrong? Add to the list that Mary’s fickleness leads the confused, emotionally fraught Dick to kill another boy, and it makes the entire plot repulsive to me on so many levels. The DIY abortion scene where Mary throws herself off of a wall repeatedly until she induces labor to end her accidental pregnancy is rendered in such a sickening way that it actually made me queasy. And what is it all for? To leave an entire town emotionally damaged, with Mary so traumatized that she eventually commits a kidnapping, and Tom standing by watching his life get destroyed time and again.

I know that my intense reaction to the book signifies that the story is impactful, even meaningful. I have tried, in more than one classroom, to explore its literary merits from a distance. But I can never quite separate myself from my visceral dislike of Waterland. I think that the book is a sign of its times, and it’s a time that I just can’t relate to. I can, and obviously do, react to it, but I don’t relate to it.

As a reader, I crave a character to root for, or a story with a little heart, or some hint of insight into the human condition that feels true. Waterland’s insight is that life can be bleak. That children who grow up in boring places with distracted parents make mistakes with permanent consequences. That while some people try to believe in something bigger, accident or misunderstanding or poor judgment can arrive at any moment to ruin everything. That most people only leave behind a legacy of pain and confusion.

Like the landscape it depicts, Waterland is memorable, with a lingering feeling of hopelessness. And that is not my kind of story.

Image via Vintage Books.