On the Shelf: Jo Baker’s Longbourn

   I’ve wanted to read Longbourn, the clever and original new novel from Jo Baker, all year. Last week, I finally got my hands on it and it proved to be one of the first novels I’ve read in awhile that I absolutely devoured.  As in, staying up too late night after night even though I know I’ll wake up bleary-eyed the next morning.

Set in eighteenth-century England, Longbourn follows the ‘downstairs lives’ of the servants scarcely mentioned in Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice.  Austenites will find the novel especially delightful, but even if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice, readers with a taste for evocative language and a setting which feels real enough to live in, will want to curl up with this cosy read.

Like millions of readers, I was enchanted by Pride and Prejudice; by the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and her Mr. Darcy; appalled at the self-importance of Mr. Collins and humored by the high-strung antics of Mrs. Bennet. Longbourn not only heightened this interest, but offered a deeply satisfying and engrossing perspective on P&P’s other world through the observations and experiences of the servants.

Baker’s careful and considered details brought regency England to life while her realistically-drawn characters offered fascinating insights into what life was like for most people. This is not the England of ball gowns and pump rooms, but one in which day to day living is only wrought by cracked hands, sore backs and hour after hour of exhausting labor.

Above all, you’ll become deeply concerned for Sarah, a young servant discovering what it means to find happiness and fulfillment in a class-constrained world. You’ll cheer on her budding romance with James and effortlessly turn the pages for hints, clues and lush details about the characters’ past and present lives which are anything but simple.

If you enjoyed Crusoe’s Daughter, you’ll definitely enjoy Longbourn.

Feeling Restless

prettyI know I’m not alone in wanting, at times, to live more than one life. Let me clarify. These last couple of years in living in Minneapolis have been, in many ways, wonderfully easy; I get to live life with my best friend; have more or less had a steady job, and have the freedom of visiting my family whenever I feel like it. Yet, a huge part of me has been feeling restless and hungry for adventure. Homesick for places I’ve never been and for people I’ve never met. (This is a quote from somewhere, I’m quite sure). I want to live abroad again. I want to travel. I’m ready for the comforts of home to be new and inspiring rather than familiar and comforting. Please tell me you sometimes feel this way, too?

B and I have talked seriously about trying to work abroad and, if it was up to me, I’d leave tomorrow. Is this normal? Has travel transformed you into a malcontent? This feeling is so difficult to describe because, in countless ways, I’m very happy with my life here. I just know that there’s more out there. And we don’t own or have kids yet, so maybe now’s the time to seek adventure?

How do you make the best of your current life circumstances? I think I need a strong dose of patience!

Image courtsey of la fleur solitaire

Dog Days of Summer

One last weekend at the cabin.

One last weekend at the cabin.

It’s been more than three months since I last wrote and I must apologize for my silence. Finding myself in-between jobs and dealing with a barrage of difficult family matters left me both uninspired and largely too low to write. I’m happy to report that much has changed.

Last work I began a new job with a nonprofit I’m passionate about and, for the first time in months, feel my life is no longer on “pause.” B and I are planning a road trip through New England. We’re getting excited to give canning another crack this fall. More than anything, we’re doing our best to drink up the last drops of summer; i.e, go paddle-boarding one last time, have Izzie’s ice cream for lunch, finish one more good book and wear my favorite summer dresses on repeat.

How will you enjoy these last days of summer? I’d love to know and I’m so glad to be back!

Career Dreams Do Come True

brisAs an undergrad, I never really felt much pride for my school.  With plans to attend college on the east coast, staying in my hometown couldn’t have been more unexpected and while I know now that it was the right decision for me (it enabled me to study abroad in Norway, volunteer in Africa and graduate early), at the time I felt a bit like a misfit.

My experience at the University of Bristol, where I earned my MA in English, couldn’t have been more different. I found a lovely group of friends right away, fell in love with the city of Bristol and loved (almost) every one of my classes. Since graduating in 2012, I’ve enjoyed keeping up to date with Bris and these recent interviews from Bristol alum, who are now world-class journalists, really struck me. I wrote for Epigram, the student newspaper, while at Bris and long considered a career in journalism, and while I’m still sorting out my real interests and skills, writing has remained at the top for me.

Not only is it encouraging to read about people who are fulfilling their career ambitions, which often feels  impossible in today’s market, but their passion for their respective fields is palpable. It made me pause and consider if I’m on the right career-path and what I hope to be doing in five, ten years from now.

Are you happy where you’re at career-wise? Any advice for pursuing job success in today’s tough climate?

Travel Mondays: Stylish Sweden

swedenAs difficult as it is to pull myself out  from under the covers on a grey Monday morning, waking up to a fresh start and brand new week is satisfying, especially when I’m finally starting to feel better. Thank you all for your kind words last week regarding my sweet Grandma. I never ever expected to say goodbye to her so soon. In some ways, none of it feels fully set in…this week’s Travel Monday will honor my Grandma and a country she loved very much: Sweden.

Stockholm's Old Town

Stockholm’s Old Town

My Grandma was one hundred percent Swedish and, with her blonde hair and bright blue eyes, more than looked the part. Although she was raised on a small Minnesotan farm, she visited her Great-Grandparent’s home in Sweden, along with Stockholm, on a special trip with my Aunt Susan. I wish I could go back and ask my Grandma dozens of questions about this trip, but I do know it was momentous for her. Even if she did leave six days early because she missed my Grandpa so much. In some ways, being drawn to Sweden runs in both sides of my family. My Aunt Melissa and Uncle Dave moved from the States to Göteborg when their family was very young and were quickly smitten. My cousin, Leah, moved shortly thereafter to help nanny.

I’ve visited Sweden three times now and would jump at the chance to go back. My first visit was to Stockholm and the next two to Sweden’s second-largest city, dreamy Göteborg.

Stockholm's moody and dramatic bluffs along the Baltic Sea.

Stockholm’s moody and dramatic bluffs along the Baltic Sea.

I think Stockholm-and Sweden as a whole-is one of Europe’s most underrated destinations. Unlike Paris and London, it’s not ridiculously overpriced and with easy to navigate public transportation, getting around is easy. What struck me most about Sweden, however, is its class. My first (and thus lasting) impression of Paris is of crowds and the fume of cigarettes and exhaust, and in Stockholm I experienced none of that. In my experience, the Swedes were courteous and quiet and, true to European form, very well-dressed. Stockholm itself  seems to achieve that rare feat of balancing old architecture and traditions seamlessly with the new. And the shopping! Ask me for my idea of a perfect afternoon and it would have to be fika (afternoon coffee and cake) and shopping in Gamla Stan.  Göteborg, with its wind-swept views and sweep of tiny islands, could easily be among Europe’s most romantic cities.

A view of city center in Gothenburg

A view of city center in Gothenburg

Why else visit Sweden? Here’s my reasons:

The café culture. First off, Swedish coffee is rich and strong…what other country could create coffee as delicious as Gevalia’s? Stopping for a coffee and fikabrod (a sweet) is also central to Swedish culture. When visiting, I found this really comforting. Unlike a tiny cup of espresso or diminutive Italian cappuccino, a mug of coffee was substantial. I didn’t feel like I had to leave the cafe in ten minute’s time.

The museums. I didn’t visit Gothenburg’s museums, but visited as many as I could in Stockholm (about six) and the variety kept things interesting and worthwhile. After purchasing the Stockholm Card, I could get in free to over 80 museums and other attractions and in four day’s time I visited the Abba Museum (!!), the Vasa (amazing!), the National Museum,  the Stockholm Museum, the Skansen Museum and Zoo (where a lemur brushed up against my nose) and the Music Museum.  Many of these museums were interactive and very hands-on–I think Stockholm would be a great destination for those traveling with kids.

The design. By now, Swedish design has been lauded the world over, but it still felt special to stroll through boutiques and furniture shops firsthand…including the original Ikea! Anyone with an eye for design will feast here.

Window shopping. Both in Gothenburg and Stockholm, so many of the shops felt really special. Being on a tight budget on every trip, I really appreciated that I never felt pressured to make a purchase. I could just look and feel comfortable.  The birthplace of H&M, fashion boutiques really seemed to cater to what was practical and workable in day to day life. On my next trip, you can bet I’ll be doing some serious shopping (I have three visits to make up for!).

These are just a few reasons to visit this Scandinavian gem, but there are many others. Those looking for outdoor activities will find them in abundance (think dog sledding in Lapland and fishing in Malmö).

Have any of your visited Sweden? What did you enjoy most? Do you think Sweden is underrated?