Top Ten Tuesday: Food in Books

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 17: Top Ten Yummy Foods Mentioned In Books (Does a character eat something you’d love? Or maybe the book takes place in a bakery/restaurant that makes yummy things? You could also talk about 10 of your favorite cookbooks if you don’t read foody books.)

I’m not really a foodie. I mean, I like food, don’t get me wrong! I like to eat. But I hate to cook. My dislike of cooking means that unless I’m ordering in or eating out, I tend to opt for simple things. Think spaghetti, scrambled eggs, and sandwiches. But I can get my fix of exotic foods on the page!

51z3mpqa7ml-_ac_us218_1. Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harrris- Chocolat seems to be the popular Harris choice for lists about food books. But I actually prefer this one. Framboise Darigan is an old lady who recalls the her childhood in a small, French town, which coincided with the later days of the Occupation during WWII. Framboise and her siblings traded with the Germans on the black market. They meet Tomas, a charming young Nazi who gives them gifts. But this friendship leads to a tragic, violent series of events that still torments Framboise years later. This sounds heavy and it is, but there’s some yummy food there too. Framboise and her mother are gifted cooks. In her narration, Framboise often speaks in terms of food.

“This is something different again. A feeling of peace. The feeling you get when a recipe turns out perfectly right, a perfectly risen souffle, a flawless sauce hollandaise. It’s a feeling which tells me that any woman can be beautiful in the eyes of a man who loves her.”

51tnp5yzcsl-_ac_us218_2. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan- Pearl Louie Brandt is the American born daughter of a Chinese mother. She and her mother have never been very close, but when she goes home for a wedding, she gets the truth of her mother’s past. Here the narrative shifts to Japanese occupied China in the years around WWII. Winnie Louie (Pearl’s mother) was an orphan who lived with her uncle and his family. A marriage was arranged for her when she grew up. This marriage turns out to be a disaster. Her husband is abusive.  She likens her situation to a Chinese fable about the wife of a man who was horrible to her no matter how much she did for him. This man still became known as the “kitchen god”. This is also a heavy topic, but with some very yummy sounding descriptions of Chinese fare.

“I take a few quick sips. “This is really good.” And I mean it. I have never tasted tea like this. It is smooth, pungent, and instantly addicting.

“This is from Grand Auntie,” my mother explains. “She told me ‘If I buy the cheap tea, then I am saying that my whole life has not been worth something better.’ A few years ago she bought it for herself. One hundred dollars a pound.”

“You’re kidding.” I take another sip. It tastes even better.”

51f55a0yvl-_ac_us218_3. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- Claire Waverly is a caterer who makes her food with mystical plants: nasturtiums are for keeping secrets, pansies are for thoughtful children etc. Her cousin, Evanelle, also has some strange gifts. The two of them are the last of the Waverlys. Well, except for Claire’s sister, Sydney, who ran away from their small town home of Bascom, North Carolina, as soon as she could. But when Sydney comes back home, she brings with her a young daughter and a dark history. She and Claire struggle to reconnect and create a family and a home. A few weeks ago, I wrote about First Frost, which is a stand alone sequel to this book.

“Business was doing well, because all the locals knew that dishes made from the flowers that grew around the apple tree in the Waverley garden could affect the eater in curious ways. The biscuits with lilac jelly, the lavender tea cookies, and the tea cakes made with nasturtium mayonnaise the Ladies Aid ordered for their meetings once a month gave them the ability to keep secrets. The fried dandelion buds over marigold-petal rice, stuffed pumpkin blossoms, and rose-hip soup ensured that your company would notice only the beauty of your home and never the flaws. Anise hyssop honey butter on toast, angelica candy, and cupcakes with crystallized pansies made children thoughtful. Honeysuckle wine served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark. The nutty flavor of the dip made from hyacinth bulbs made you feel moody and think of the past, and the salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen, whether it was true or not.

51t-vfynk1l-_ac_us218_4. The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell- Rachel has spent her whole life keeping the fact that she can make wishes come true a secret. The consequences of granting wishes have a history of being disastrous. So when she accidentally grants a wish for the first time in years, she decides its time to hit the road. Her car runs out of gas in Nowhere, North Carolina. There she meets Catch, an old woman who can bind secrets by baking them into pies. She also meets Catch’s neighbor, Ashe, a handsome fellow who makes Rachel believe that a happily ever after might be possible for her. But when wishes start to pile up all over town, Rachel must finally learn to accept who she is, and how to control her ability. This was a nice “comfort read” at the end of a long day. And it made me want pie. A lot.

“She relaxed her grip on the plate and inhaled the sweet scent of the peach pie. She would have eaten it even if it hadn’t smelled like heaven on a plate, but after the first bite, she was grateful Catch had ignored her initial refusal.”

51cve8ijpbl-_ac_us218_5. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg- Evelyn Couch is 48 years old and having a mid-life crisis. Ninny Threadgoode is 86 and still living with a lifetime of happy memories. When they meet in the visitors room of an Alabama nursing home, Cleo begins to tell Evelyn about the town she grew up in, during the great depression. Much of the life in town centered around the Whistle Stop Cafe which was run by Idgie Threadgoode, a rebellious tomboy, and her partner, Ruth. Idgie, Ruth and the Whistle Stop Cafe survive just about everything; from the depression, to the KKK, to murder. And they do it amidst the smell of good food!

“The Whistle Stop Cafe opened up last week, right next door to me at the post office, and owners Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison said business has been good ever since. Idgie says that for people who know her not to worry about getting poisoned, she is not cooking.”

41nzls4cxol-_ac_us218_6. Sunshine by Robin McKinley-Rae “Sunshine” Seddon works at her stepfather’s bakery (where her cinnamon rolls are legendary!). One night she goes out to the lake in search of some peace and quiet. She ends up getting kidnapped by vampires. She’s held in the same room as Constantine, another vampire, who is also in chains. He’s been captured by his enemy who wants him to die slowly of daylight and starvation. But Sunshine has some secret powers (aside from baking, that is) and she frees them both. But they soon find themselves on the run from Constantine’s enemies.  I’m sort of conflicted about putting this book on my list, since I ultimately disliked it for the same reason that it belongs on here: a lot too much time was spent on describing how the main character makes the best cinnamon rolls ever. But I’m putting it on the list because, well, the cinnamon rolls did sound pretty good!

“Mr. Responsible Media was looking rebellious, but this was my country. I was the Cinnamon Roll Queen and most of those assembled were my devoted subjects.”

51cpofw4mll-_ac_us218_7. Mistress of the Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni- Tilo is an old woman who sells spices in Oakland California. She suggests spices to flavor different dishes, but secretly these spices treat the spiritual problems of her customers. Because Tilo isn’t really an old woman. She’s really the immortal “Mistress of the Spices” trained in the art of spices and given special powers. But these powers come with rules.  When she breaks those rules she doesn’t lose her magical abilities, but she does lose power regarding the outcomes when she uses her magic. Ultimately she has to chose between being a powerful immortal, or an ordinary woman. This book makes me hungry for Indian food.

“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”

51h2-a-nbl-_ac_us218_8. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder- Yelena faces execution for murder (the fact that he deserved it doesn’t seem to matter much….) She is offered a way out: become the food taster for the commander of Ixia. She’s kept from escaping by being poisoned. Only the commander’s head of security, Valek, has the antidote, which most be administered on a daily basis. But Yelena soon discovers that she has a role to play in Ixia’s future. She gets caught up in castle politics, but her actions make some people impatient with waiting for poison to finish her off. It seems strange to have a book about someone tasting a food for poison make a reader hungry, but almost every chapter has a description of a yummy meal- the fact that it may or may not be poisoned just makes it a bit more interesting!

“When you warned me that you would test me from time to time, I thought you meant spiking my food. But it seems there is more than one way to poison a person’s heart, and it doesn’t even require a meal.”

51-eyayn0ol-_ac_us218_9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern- Behind the scenes of Le Cirque des Reves there’s a duel taking place between two magicians. Celia and Marco have been trained from childhood to fight to the death. However, the best laid plans fall apart when Celia and Marco fall in love. They’re still bound to their duel, unless they can find a way out. Nothing about the plot deals with food really, but the writing is very sensory. There are a lot of food related metaphors that almost let you taste what they’re talking about.

“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.”

51qlgj6zojl-_ac_us218_10. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- The Harry Potter universe should really come with its own menu. The books need no introduction. But whether it’s Mrs. Weasley’s feasts, the food trolley on the Hogwarts express, or the contents of Honeyduke’s sweetshop, there’s something mouthwatering, and something cringeworthy (Jelly Slugs? Blood flavored lollipops?) for everyone. I once had something claiming to be Butterbeer. It actually tasted suspiciously like ginger ale.

“He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.’’  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

 

 

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Judy Blume & You: All Ages

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This is really just a quick post to share a little essay thingy that I wrote about Judy Blume for Girls At Library (and a quick aside, if you haven’t checked out the site, do so. It’s one of my favorite places on the internet).  You can read it here.  Blume was the first of many favorite authors for me.  When I was in fourth grade I wrote her a letter. She sent me back a form letter, which I prized quite highly.

Top Ten Tuesday: “Fall-ish” Books

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 10: Ten Books With Fall/Autumn Covers/Themes (If the cover screams fall to you, or the books give off a feeling of being Fallish)

Actually this week it’s more like top 8…

When I think about Fall I think about the end of the year. The end of the summer. I think about the leaves turning bright colors before turning brown and disappearing. I love fall, but there’s a melancholy to it. To me these books have a similar sense of melancholy.

51jkmsmns9l-_ac_us218_1. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro– This is about Stevens, an English butler in the mid-twentieth century. He was raised to be a “Gentleman’s gentleman.” He served the same family for decades. He gave up the woman that he loved in order to do it. Now, nearing the later part of his life, he takes a drive through the country. As he dives he thinks about the past, and tries to reassure himself that he spent his life serving a “great gentleman” and thereby served humanity at large. But as we travel through his thoughts we come to realize that he harbors doubts about the true greatness of the family he served, and even stronger doubts about his own life and choices. This is a book that is greater than the sum of its parts. Ostensibly it’s about an old man out for a drive. But it’s really about his life and his world. His doubts about how he spent his life come too late, once most of his life is gone. This book evokes a strong sense of melancholy that I think is very fall-like.

“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

41migzs6vxl-_ac_us218_2. Howard’s End by EM Forster– This book explores the various intricacies surrounding British class relations at the turn of the twentieth century. It centers around three families; one representing the working class, one the middle class, and one the elite. The nature of their class status affects the characters social relationships for better and for worse. But we, as the reader know something that neither the characters, nor the author (who published the book in 1910) do: that two world wars are just around the corner. They will decimate the class system that had previously prevailed. While Forster couldn’t have known in 1910 that WWI was around the corner, he did clearly sense a coming end to the the British empire and the the rigid class structure. It’s no accident that the house around which much of the action takes place is called Howard’s End!  This sense of one era ending and something new lurking is very… autumnal to me.

“Some leave our life with tears, others with an insane frigidity; Mrs. Wilcox had taken the middle course, which only rarer natures can pursue. She had kept proportion. She had told a little of her grim secret to her friends, but not too much; she had shut up her heart–almost, but not entirely. It is thus, if there is any rule, that we ought to die–neither as victim nor as fanatic, but as the seafarer who can greet with an equal eye the deep that he is entering, and the shore that he must leave.”

512xmuzxkzl-_ac_us218_3. The Cider House Rules by John Irving– It has the word “cider” in the title for goodness sakes! There’s an orchard, and apple picking! Actually this story is  set over the course of about 30 years (from the 1920’s to the 1950’s) Dr. Larch founds an orphanage in St. Cloud, Maine. His favorite orphan is Homer, who eventually follows in his footsteps and becomes a doctor. During the years that the book takes place, abortion was illegal in the US. Having seen the result of illegal, back alley abortions (a dead woman and a dead fetus) Dr. Larch performs abortions in a safe, sterile environment. When Homer learns of Dr. Larch’s side business he is horrified and leaves St. Cloud. He joins his friends in a cider making business. He types up a list of rules for the apple pickers who come to work for them for the season. All of that makes it very fall-y.

“That was when Angel Wells became a fiction writer, whether he knew it or not. That’s when he learned how to make the make-believe matter to him more than real life mattered to him; that’s when he learned how to paint a picture that was not real and never would be real, but in order to be believed at all- even on a sunny Indian summer day- it had to be better made and seem more real than real; it had to sound at least possible.”

51dtol9n8al-_ac_us218_4. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder- This one is more literal. A lot of the book deals with a pioneer family preparing for winter. We get descriptions of harvesting sap, and making maple syrup, and candy. And of course in the evenings Laura and her family are safe and warm in bed, listening to Pa play the fiddle…. OK so those aren’t really my fall activities. But they are activities that scream “fall” to me!

“She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

41azoatsy3l-_ac_us160_5. Persuasion by Jane Austen More so than any other Jane Austen I see this one as being about endings and renewals. We’re told early in the book that Anne has lost her youthful “bloom”. Much of the conflict centers around what happened when Anne and Captain Wentworth were young. Their failed romance provides the groundwork for the novel. So essentially we go into a story beginning with an ending, a failed love affair. This was the defining event of Anne Elliot’s youth (or springtime, if you will) over the next decade she removed herself from the marriage market and lost that “bloom”. When we meet in Persuasion she appears to be at the end of something. The end of her youth, the end of her marriageable days. In other words, even though she’s still young (27) she’s prematurely entered the “fall” of her life. But against the odds she manages to turn back the clock a bit and regain some spring and summer.

“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.”

51sskkgyvgl-_ac_us218_6. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen- This is another semi-literal pick. It takes place in the fall. It’s a sort of stand alone sequel to Allen’s Garden Spells. You don’t have to read Garden Spells to read this one. The Waverly sisters, Claire and Sydney live in Bascom NC with their husbands and children. The family home has a spirited apple tree in the backyard and all of the Waverly women have a bit of magic.  Claire’s nine year old daughter, Mariah, has made a mysterious friend, whom no one else can see. Sydney’s fifteen year old daughter, Bay, has proclaimed her love for a boy who doesn’t return her feelings. There are issues with the older Waverly’s too. Sydney is heartbroken over her seeming inability to get pregnant again, and Claire’s candy making business is taking over her life. A mysterious stranger has turned up in town bringing secrets that could destroy the Waverly family. And with the first frost coming, a lot of things are going to change.

“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white apple blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were all okay, grateful to have gotten through it.”

41yn-xblul-_ac_us218_7. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne DuMaurier– This is a great Halloween read because it’s spooky but it also has a shadow of death hanging over it. A married couple visit Venice to recover after the death of their daughter. But they encounter mysterious twin sisters, one of whom is a blind psychic. She tells them that their daughter is sending a warning: the must leave Venice. If that weren’t enough there is also a serial killer stalking the city. As the husband, a psychic who hasn’t accepted his gifts, chases the figure of a child around the city, things that seem like back story move slowly forward. The Venetian atmosphere is palpable, it’s gloomy, damp and strangely beautiful (like a certain season…). Death has followed the central couple on their trip, and there’s only one way for it to end.

And he saw the vaporetto with Laura and the two sisters steaming down the Grand Canal, not today, not tomorrow, but the day after that, and he knew why they were together and for what sad purpose they had come. The creature was gibbering in its corner. The hammering and the voices and the barking dog grew fainter, and, ‘Oh God,’ he thought, ‘what a bloody silly way to die…’

51f91e7cxql-_ac_us218_8. Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan-Eben Adams is an artist. He sketches a schoolgirl, Jennie, in Central Park and talks to her a bit. The resulting sketch conveys more emotion than any of his previous work. When Eben next meets Jennie, she seems to have grown a few years older. The same thing happens again. Jennie is now fully grown, and as Eben paints her portrait he realizes that when  he finishes, Jennie will disappear as mysteriously as she appeared. Jennie brings a sense of mystery with her. Aside from her rapid aging, she seems to talk as if she’s from another time. Is she a ghost? A time traveller? What is the strong song she sings? With the shadow of Jennie’s upcoming disappearance looming over them, her and Eban’s story is Autumn. Brightly colorful, just before the end.

I had one clear day of happiness, and I shall never forget it. Even the miserable ending to it cannot change its quality in my memory; for everything that Jennie and I did was good, and unhappiness came only from the outside. Not many—lovers or friends—can say as much. For friends and lovers are quick to wound, quicker than strangers, even; the heart that opens itself to the world, opens itself to sorrow. I

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Boyfriends

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 3: Top Ten Book Boyfriends/Girlfriends (Which characters do you have crushes on?)

Ah book boyfriends. They make up the vast majority of boyfriends for me. They’ve broken my heart and put it back together again. There are some notable omissions on here. I didn’t include Heathcliff because his sociopathic tendencies are sort of a turn off for me. I also didn’t include Mr. Rochester because, while I do ship him with Jane the whole “I forgot to tell you I’m already married” thing at the wedding would have been a deal breaker for me (though I’m glad it wasn’t for Jane). There are also a few that appealed to me once but don’t so much any more. And of course a few are sort of embarrassing.

51z5jz2frjl-_ac_us218_1. Peter Pan from Peter Pan by JM Barrie- Yes I was a little kid when this crush ruled. I loved Peter Pan in all his incarnations. Like him, I never saw the appeal of adulthood. He had this whole world for himself, with a tribe of friends around all the time. He had enough danger to keep things exciting, a devoted fairy friend and the ability to fly. What’s not to love as a kid? But even when I was very young I sensed some sadness from him. While the idea of eternal childhood, free of adult supervision appealed to me, I was also somewhat aware that it wasn’t quite right. There comes a time when all kids- even those who can fly, need structure, family and stability. Peter didn’t have that. Even the eternal childhood that I envied had something “off” about it. Because childhood is only one part of life. To stay in it, is to deny the rest of what life has to offer. Children are very future oriented and Peter Pan lived in a perpetual present. Of course this gave him a bit of a tragic element, which only made me love him more.

There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.

511prxozevl-_ac_us218_2. Jeremy Dragon from Here’s to You Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume- Jeremy’s actual last name is Kravtiz but a jacket makes him known as Jeremy Dragon to the title character and her friends. And “Dragon” sort of suits him better. A dragon is a mysterious, dangerous, fantasy. As is the cutest guy in middle school, for Rachel Robinson, a gifted and talented “good girl”. As a result she doesn’t really consider him as a real life option. She does have a crush on an older man however. But when that reveals itself to be a dead end, it turns out that Jeremy is interested in Rachel. I don’t know why this character, and this element of the story resonated with me so much. It was probably a bit of a wish fulfillment fantasy. I saw bits of myself in the goody goody Rachel. So her shock that Jeremy might see her as something other than awkward was similar to my own. I don’t know if that means that the story line was well developed, or just that it did its job in making pre-teen Fran swoon.

“Just when you think life is over, you find out it’s not. Just when you think you’re never going to fall for someone else, it happens without any warning! I hope this doesn’t means I’m… jumping from Obstacle to the next. I don’t think it does. I don’t think it means anything except life is full of surprises and they’re not necessarily bad.”

51kc21bqngl-_ac_us218_3. Gilbert Blythe from the Anne series by LM Montgomery- When Gilbert first meets Anne Shirley in school, he teases her about her red hair, calling her carrots. In return she breaks a slate over his head. Great romances often have rough beginnings! Over the years, Gilbert apologizes and he and Anne become friends. Gilbert wants more, but Anne dreams of a knight in shining armor. It’s not until some later that she comes to realize that her knight in shining armor might just be her kind, supportive friend. And that her romance with him might be better than anything she could have dreamed up! Gilbert sees Anne both as the girl she was and the woman she becomes and he loves both: the awkward and the graceful.

Gilbert stretched himself out on the ferns beside the Bubble and looked approvingly at Anne. If Gilbert had been asked to describe his ideal woman the description would have answered point for point to Anne, even to those seven tiny freckles whose obnoxious presence still continued to vex her soul. Gilbert was as yet little more than a boy; but a boy has his dreams as have others, and in Gilbert’s future there was always a girl with big, limpid gray eyes, and a face as fine and delicate as a flower.

-From Anne of Avonlea (Book 2 of the Anne series)

41rryji1bvl-_ac_us218_4. Romeo Montague from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare was my literary crush when I was about twelve or thirteen. I eventually outgrew this one. But I always felt that those who accused Romeo of being fickle were misreading the text- I still do. Romeo’s initial infatuation with Rosaline isn’t supposed to tell us his love for Juliet isn’t true. Just the opposite. It’s supposed to tell us that this isn’t a boyish infatuation; he’s already had that. When he meets Juliet his language changes significantly, and he begins speaking in elegant poetry. That indicates that love has brought him to greater sophistication. As for love at first sight, no I don’t really believe in it (I do think people can fall in love quickly but perhaps not that quickly!). But I don’t believe in ghosts or witches either and their presence doesn’t keep my from believing the characters in Hamlet or Macbeth! Plus, who wouldn’t want to be the woman who inspires a man to speak like this?

O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_5. Jamie Fraser from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon- A lot of people who list Jamie as a literary crush argue that he’s perfect. I’m including him here because he’s far from it. He’s got flaws, and not just the kind that the writer threw in because someone told her that characters can’t be perfect. His flaws are as much a part of who he is as his strengths, and sometimes they’re one and the same. His stubbornness makes him act like a jerk at times; but it also makes him as devoted as one can possibly be to his loved ones. At times his views of women come off as old fashioned, which is also good: an 18th century hero who talks like he just finished reading Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinham wouldn’t ring true. But whatever he might say and whatever mistakes he makes, he’s still the 18th century guy who saw a crazy lady running around in her underwear, spewing foul language, and skillfully providing healthcare and fell hard.

When the day shall come, that we do part,” he said softly, and turned to look at me, “if my last words are not ‘I love you’—ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”

-From The Fiery Cross (Book 5 of the Outlander series)

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_6. Alexander Belov Barrington from The Bronze Horseman series by Paullina Simons though I might break up with him after something he pulled in The Summer Garden… I overlook it here only because that whole part of the book seemed very out of character to me. In the first two books (and through most of the third) Alexander is the brave, stubborn, devoted man who brings you ice cream. That’s the dream isn’t it?  Well Alexander has a temper, and sometimes sees things as black and white, when they’re not. But that’s balanced by a strong sense of right and wrong, and a willingness to sometimes do the wrong thing for the right reasons, and vice versa.

“Tatiana…you and I had only one moment…” said Alexander. “A single moment in time, in your time and mine…one instant, when another life could have still been possible.” He kissed her lips. “Do you know what I’m talking about?”
When Tatiana looked up from her ice cream, she saw a soldier staring at her from across the street.
“I know that moment,” whispered Tatiana.”

41gwjpjhljl-_ac_us218_7. Gabriel Oak from Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy- Gabriel Oak is a farmer. He works his land, and he works hard. He’s reliable and has common sense. He proposes to Bathsheba Everdine early in this novel and is refused. He remains her loyal friend throughout. Even when she is acting impulsive or unwise, Gabriel never wavers in his devotion. When Bathsheba eventually realizes what she gave up when she turned down Oak’s proposal, he doesn’t gloat. He doesn’t tell her to get lost. He is simply happy because the woman he loves wants him. The life that he wants with her is simple:

And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.

51zpob-ijil-_ac_us218_

 

8. Sir Francis Crawford of Lymond from the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett- Though his spot on the list might be temporary. In the first two books he earned his place on here, but I haven’t read the rest of the series yet. He might break my heart. Lymond is  a difficult character to describe because it’s hard to get to know him. He’s handsome. He’s incredibly smart. He speaks a number of languages and is extremely well read. He’s generally good at fighting and intrigues. But we spend most of the books seeing him from other people’s points of view. That makes him intriguing as a literary crush! But as I said, I’m only two books into the series. I might learn something I don’t like!

Considering Lymond, flat now on the bed in wordless communion with the ceiling, Richard spoke. “My dear, you are only a boy. You have all your life still before you.”

On the tortoise-shell bed, his brother did not move. But there was no irony for once in his voice when he answered. “Oh, yes, I know. The popular question is, For what?”

-From Queens Play (Book 2 of the Lymond chronicles)

419ewleob1l-_ac_us218_9. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- the only Austen hero to make my list (I like a few others two but there were reasons they didn’t make it on the list) seems like someone you could potentially be happy with. We get to know him first through his faults; pride (and prejudice!), stuffiness, a tendency to be judgmental. But when we get to know the other side to his personality- loyalty, a fundamental sense of decency, honesty, we get a fuller picture of whole person.

In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_10. Carl Brown from Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith- In 1927 Carl and Annie fall in love and get married. Most books would end there, but that’s where this one starts. Carl is a second year law student. Annie left school at the age of 14 to work and support her family. Right away the couple face financial difficulties. Carl’s work and his studies keep him busy. Annie is very intelligent and an avid reader, but isn’t well educated, and feels awkward and a bit uncomfortable in a university setting. Even when he doesn’t always understand where Annie is coming from, Carl always loves her. When things get difficult her doesn’t regret his decision to marry her. He never wavers in the certainty that this is who he is supposed to spend his life with.

A Little Romance, and A Little Rant

On Sunday morning, I was watching the film She Devil. Side-note, if you haven’t seen this late 1980’s gem starring Rosanne Barr and Meryl Streep, do so right now. Seriously, I’ll wait. I’ve seen this movie about a hundred times, but as I was watching that morning, I noticed something about the occupation of one character and the reading habits of another.

51koxsdedtlIn the film, Rosanne Barr plays Ruth Patchett, a middle class suburban housewife and romance novel enthusiast, whose husband leaves her for another woman. That other woman turns out to be Ruth’s favorite author, Mary Fisher. Mary is everything that Ruth isn’t: wealthy, glamorous, sexy. But as we’re reminded many times, Mary writes romance novels. The film suggests that Ruth is sort of pathetic for being a romance reader, and that Mary takes herself way too seriously for her genre. Several scenes are played to establish that Mary sees herself as a creative person who takes her work seriously, and is wrong  and silly to do so. If the character had been a mystery writer, or a sci-fi writer, would it have been played the same way? Probably not. But then the Ruth character probably wouldn’t read another genre in the same way she devours romance. Because she’s sad and romance novels offer her wish fulfillment that she wouldn’t get elsewhere.

Romance sells more than any other genre. Yet there is the implication that people who read it and write it are stupid and pathetic.   Why? Are that many people really stupid? Or do romance novels and the people who write them get a bad rap? Can romance novels be formulaic? Absolutely. So can just about every other genre of fiction. Can they be stupid? Sure, but again, many other fiction genres have their good examples and their bad. So why the ire?

my-american-duchess_final-175x283Mary Bly writes romance under the pen name Eloisa James. Bly is an English professor and Shakespeare scholar at Fordham University. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a M. Phil from Oxford University, and a PhD in Renaissance Studies from Yale University. She has done a great deal of academic writing under her real name. (She’s not stupid!) When she started writing romance, she was told that she could not have a successful career in academia if it was known that she did this. Once she got tenure she “came out” as a romance writer. She identifies as a feminist, and explains that “the main thing I do as a feminist concerns sexuality: Anything you’re doing for somebody, they should damn well be doing for you. Sex is a two-way street. I get letters saying, I’ve been reading your books and I realize he shouldn’t be talking to me this way and I deserve better.” She argues that “There’s something very upsetting about a book viewed as existing only to titillate women. I’m surprised by the letters I get saying these books raise unfair expectations among women about sexuality. What you’re hearing is this deep anxiety about their personal lives.”

Tess Gerritsen is best known for mystery novels. Her Rizzoli and Isles series found success in a tv adaptation. But she started off writing romance novels. Well, technically, she started off as a medical doctor. She graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor’s in anthropology before getting her MD from the University of California, San Francisco (she’s not stupid either!). She began writing romances while on maternity leave from medicine. She wrote eight romance novels before eventually switching over to mystery. Those books have since been reissued by her publisher. They were written as romantic suspense and they are mostly being sold as thrillers now, which has led to a lot of anger. keeper-of-the-brideAccording to her:  “many mystery readers loathe a romance plot in any way, shape, or form. Some of them even admitted that if an author at any time in her career ever wrote a romance, they wouldn’t pick up her mystery novel. Their hatred borders on the irrational. They think they are too discriminating and literary for such drivel.  A brush of the lips, a longing glance, and BAM! They slam the book shut. They will eagerly devour pages and pages of spattered blood and glistening entrails, but a man and a woman falling in love? Horrors!”

A lot of the people who criticize romance as a genre don’t seem to know much about it. On her blog, Gerritsen cites a comment on a discussion forum: “Romance seems to be pretty much nothing *but* formula the identical formula of the love triangle and the woman who has to “tame” the “wild” man…. Mysteries, while they do have formulae, have a huge field of variations — serial killer procedurals, psychological thrillers told from the killer’s pov. So far as I know, Romance doesn’t have anything like that.” This is an example of prejudice being born out of sheer ignorance. Because romance novels have just as much variation as mystery novels do: historical romance, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense etc. Within each subgenre there are conventions, tropes, formulae, and yes, original work.

Now, I’m not saying that mystery readers are under any obligation to like romance. But to dismiss a writer because s/he once wrote romance at a different point in his/her career is absurd.  All it can indicate is that at some point in his her career, this writer gave women “a form of reassurance that someone is interested in ordinary women’s inner lives and is rooting for us to resolve our conflicts about work, love and what we deserve from our relationships” X.  Perhaps some people do find that threatening.

Of course that implies that only women read  romance. That’s not the case. But men who read these books tend to do so in secret. It’s considered “unmanly” to have an interest in a story about a romantic relationship. Why? Well, reading about (or having) feelings is considered somehow feminine by a certain contingent. And there are a lot of myths in popular culture about romance novels and romance readers. One of those myths is that only women read it. There’s a feeling that if it’s for women it must, by definition, be lesser than other genre fiction.

All readers have preferences and that’s fine. But why judge others based on their preferences? I certainly wouldn’t want to be judged based on mine!  I don’t like romance when it doesn’t feel well developed or natural. Many books of other genres tend to shove a love interest into their stories only for the sake of having one. I tend to dislike that. But if a book tells a good story, I don’t care whether it’s romance, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy or something else. I won’t go into the romance section of a bookstore first (I tend to start in general fiction and work my way through the various genres after that, unless I’m looking for something in particular.) because I often find them very formulaic (but as I’ve said, a lot of genre fiction is guilty of the same thing) But I also won’t ignore a book recommendation if the book happens to be in that genre. Nor will I ignore an author because s/he writes/once wrote romance.

I think people like to be able to classify and categorize things. It helps to makes sense of the world. Publishers do the same thing. And it can mean sales- often when they’re not sure what genre a book belongs in, they’ll stick it in romance because it means that there is more money to be made. Maybe it was intended to be written as a romance. Maybe it wasn’t. But the genre doesn’t define the writer. As readers lets all try to be more open minded and tolerant about what others enjoy!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Featuring Characters Based on Characters in Other Books

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 26:  Ten Books That Feature Characters ____________: Examples: Ten books that feature black main characters, characters who hold interesting jobs, characters who have a mental illness, characters that are adopted, characters that play sports, etc, etc. Can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

I decided to do ten characters that are based on characters in other books. There are a lot of retellings of classics that are just bad. But at their best, these books can be innovative, and original. They can add another layer of understanding to the original text and characters, by highlighting elements that were subtextual in the original. I felt that all these characters added something to my understanding/appreciation of the original text/character. For the purpose of this list I didn’t include characters from fairy tales, myths or legends.  There must be a definite source.

51kbodhni5l-_ac_us218_1. Wide Saragasso Sea by Jean Rhys based on Antoinette (Bertha) Cosway Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre has inspired a lot of fanfiction. Some is good, some isn’t. But novel, featuring the madwoman in the attic from Jane Eyre is haunting, strange and lovely. Antonette Cosway is a Creole heiress who grew up on a decaying plantation in the West Indies. She’s essentially sold into marriage to an Englishman. He brings her to England, away from the only world she knows. In England she finds herself isolated, and expected to conform to narrow expectations of what a woman of her race, class, and gender should be. It’s enough to drive someone insane. In Jane Eyre, I see Mr. Rochester’s actions toward his mad wife as problematic, yes. But given the fact that his wife was a danger to herself and others, she had to be confined. Keeping her confined at home with full time care seemed kinder than what she might expect in a 19th century mental hospital. But in this book, from the wife’s perspective, we begin to wonder if that’s really the case.

“As soon as I turned the key I saw it hanging, the color of fire and sunset. the colour of flamboyant flowers. ‘If you are buried under a flamboyant tree, ‘ I said, ‘your soul is lifted up when it flowers. Everyone wants that.’

She shook her head but she did not move or touch me.”

51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_2. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye based on Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This re-imagining of Jane Eyre features a smart, independent, sympathetic serial killer in the place of the traditional heroine. Jane Steele, like Jane Eyre, was born poor, orphaned, and sent by her aunt to a horrible school (after Jane- accidentally- killed her cousin). At the school she befriends another girl, but the brutal headmaster is preying on the vulnerable girls in his care. So really Jane was justified in what she did… After she leaves school the bodies pile up. She eventually takes a job as a governess, where she cares for the ward of Charles Thornfield. As Jane falls in love with Mr. Thornfield, she becomes curious about his mysterious past. She also becomes rather conflicted about her own. Will a handful of homicides be a deal breaker for Mr Thornfield? This stands out among other works of fanfiction for it’s cleverness and dark humor.

” Reader, I murdered him.”

51628cg19vl-_ac_us218_3. Jack Maggs by Peter Carey based on Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Early in Great Expectations, our protagonist, Pip, encounters Abel Magwitch, a convict. He helps Magwitch and in return Magwitch becomes his secret benefactor. This book opens with Jack Maggs, illegally returned to England from the prison island of Australia. He has a plan that involves revenge, retribution, and justice. He wants to find his “son” and reclaim his house. He draws the attention of a variety of characters including a writer/hypnotist, who promises to help Jack in his quest in exchange for probing his psyche. The names and dates are changed a bit from Great Expectations, but the book makes no secret about the fact that Dickens is its source.

“Now, each day in the Morning Chronicle, each fortnight in the Observer, it was Tobias Oates who ‘made’ the City of London. With a passion he barely understood himself, he named it, mapped it, widened its great streets, narrowed its dingy lanes, framed its scenes with the melancholy windows of his childhood. In this way, he invented a respectable life for himself: a wife, a babe, a household. He had gained a name for comic tales. He had got himself, along the way, a little belly, a friend who was a titled lady, a second friend who was a celebrated actor, a third friend who was a Knight of the Realm, a fourth friend who was an author and tutor to the young Princess Victoria. He did not dare look down, so far had he come. Until this morning, when his fun and games had killed a man.
Then the doctor had cast him out, and this criminal, this outcast, had felt himself free to pick him up and shake him as though he were nothing but a rabbit.”

51e95ew86gl-_ac_us218_4. March by Geraldine Brooks based on Mr. March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: We don’t spend much time with the March girls’ father in Little Women. He was away at war for a while. But this novel tells of his experiences with the war. Not only does this paint a horrific (and, sadly, most likely accurate) picture of war, but it also makes the reader look at Little Woman in a different way. How are the March family’s social activism and beliefs linked to their loss of status and fortune? How is all of the above linked to the abolitionist movement? It’s also interesting to see how March sees his wife and daughters. We feel like we know them well from Little Women, but March sees them a bit differently than a reader might.

“I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces. The broken cities, the burned barns, the innocent injured beasts, the ruined bodies of the boys we bore and the men we lay with.

The waste of it. I sit here, and I look at him, and it is as if a hundred women sit beside me: the revolutionary farm wife, the English peasant woman, the Spartan mother-‘Come back with your shield or on it,’ she cried, because that was what she was expected to cry. And then she leaned across the broken body of her son and the words turned to dust in her throat.”

51t5nldq8kl-_ac_us218_5. Clarissa Vaughn from The Hours by Michael Cunningham  based on Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: The Hours is always a tough book to describe. It imagines Virginia Woolf in the process of writing Mrs. Dalloway. It also imagines a 1950’s housewife, reading the book, and questioning her life. But for me, the most vivid of the three main characters is Clarissa Vaughn, who, like Mrs. Dalloway, is throwing a party, and trying to get things ready for it. Like Mrs. Dalloway, we follow her through her day, as she confronts her life and her choices. The three stories eventually intertwine and come together. But for me Clarissa’s strand seems to stand out a bit. I read this book in college and my professor called it “literary graverobbing” due to Cunningham’s channeling of Woolf’s style. I wouldn’t call it that myself, because I see it more as Cunningham have a conversation with Woolf than with copying her.

“Dear Leonard. To look life in the face. Always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it. To love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard. Always the years between us. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.”

51f63bxc2nl-_ac_us218_6. Bod from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimen based on Mowgli from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: Bod (full name; Nobody Owens) is an orphan who has been raised in a cemetery, by ghosts. We go through several vignettes and episodes in Bod’s childhood. While I was reading this, I honestly didn’t see any parallels to The Jungle Book. Even the title didn’t tip me off…. But when a friend pointed it out, all of a sudden it was unmissable!

“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.”

51x1xphoasl-_ac_us218_7. Erik from Phantom by Susan Kay based on Erik from The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux: It’s hard to believe, just based on it’s massive popularity, but Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera wasn’t all that good. It had its moments, but it seemed to veer from mystery to horror to romance and back again.  I never felt a strong attachment to any character.  In this book Susan Kay resolves a lot of those issues. She follows the character, Erik, from birth. Erik is horribly disfigured from birth, but also, astonishingly gifted. He travels across Europe, learning that while love might forever elude him, power is within his reach.  He creates a home for himself in cellars of the Paris Opera House, where he must finally resolve his conflicted nature. We feel for this character, in a way that we don’t in Lereux’s work, because we’ve seen his journey. His past isn’t as mysterious, but we’re more invested in it.

“Is the mask magic?” he demanded with sudden, passionate interest.
“Yes.” I bowed my head, so that our eyes no longer met. “I made it magic to keep you safe. The mask is your friend, Erik. As long as you wear it, no mirror can ever show you the face again.”
He was silent then and when I showed him the new mask he accepted it without question and put it on hastily with his clumsy, bandaged fingers. But when I stood up to go, he reacted with panic and clutched at my grown.
“Don’t go! Don’t leave me here in the dark.”
“You are not in the dark,” I said patiently. “Look, I have left the candle …”
But I knew, as I looked at him, that it would have made no difference if I had left him fifty candles. The darkness he feared was in his own mind and there was no light in the universe powerful enough to take that darkness from him

51p4swqetkl-_ac_us218_8. Willie Bodega from Bodega Dreams by Ernesto B. Quinonez based on Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Just as Fitzgerald evoked Long Island, Quinonez evokes Spanish Harlem, where Willie Bodega rules. He can get you whatever you need, in exchange for loyalty. Chino is a young man who turns to Bodega for a favor, and finds himself drawn into Bodega’s world, where he learns that Bodega’s ultimate goal is his first love, Vera. The book is notable for how it recreates the  setting. Even someone who has never been to Spanish Harlem comes away from reading this, with an understanding of the sights, the sounds and the smells.

“He was street nobility incarnated in someone who still believed in dreams… triggered by a romantic ideal found only in those poor bastards who really wanted to be poets but got drafted and sent to the front lines.”

41-f8aif5zl-_ac_us218_9. Ada from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier based on Penelope from The Odyssey by Homer: I read The Odyssey by Homer when I was in high school. It wasn’t really my thing. When I heard that Cold Mountain was inspired, in part, by Homer’s epic, I wasn’t that interested in reading it. I’m glad I overcame that hesitation though. I found Penelope one of the more interesting characters in The Odyssey, and I wanted to spend more time with her than Homer did. Fortunately this novel gave me Ada, a Southern gal waiting for her fiance to return from the civil war. As her beloved Inman journey’s home to her, Ada must learn to revive her father’s farm and to survive in a new world.

“…for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you were. All your grief hasn’t changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You’re only left with your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not.”

514hkgpgol-_ac_us218_10. Felix Phillips from Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood based on The Tempest by William Shakespeare: Felix was once a renowned theater director. He was ousted from his post by his assistant, and so he hides away and plans his revenge. Under a fake name he begins to teach literacy in a prison. Each year his class puts on a Shakespeare performance. When the time is right for Felix’s revenge, he  stages The Tempest for his former assistant. As he stages the play he reenacts the events in his own life. It’s all very meta.

“The rest of his life. How long that time had once felt to him. How quickly it has sped by. How much of it has been wasted. How soon it will be over.”

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday: 

September 19Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List

I decided to list  books on my TBR with a sort of “autumnal” feeling to them.

41hn3x56n9l-_ac_us218_1. Autumn by Ali Smith– This is the first in a quartet of of stand alone books that are described as “separate, yet interconnected and cyclical”. I’m going to try to read them during the seasons for which they are intended! I’m also intrigued because this book is said to be about the platonic relationship between a man and a woman at very different points in their lives. I think that’s a topic that’s often unexplored.

 

41hv3ouqj9l-_ac_us218_2. The Break by Marian Keyes– Mostly I just want to read this because I tend to like Marian Keyes. This book is about a man and woman in a generally happy marriage. So the woman is surprised when her husband announces that he wants to take a six month “break” and go to southeast Asia. Mid-life crisis? Perhaps. But a break isn’t a break up. But will these two reunite and be the same people left?

 

51bkzcrevpl-_ac_us218_3. Tanglewood and Brine by Deidre Sullivan- This is described as thirteen “dark, feminist retellings of traditional fairy tales”. Um, yes, please!

 

 

 

613s3rdz4l-_ac_us218_4. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell– This is said to be a ghost story inspired by Susan Hill and Shirley Jackson. I love both of those authors and consider both to be very good fall reading. Hopefully this will be too!

 

 

 

 

61keae7jdll-_ac_sr160218_5. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman– I’m a fan of Hoffman in general, and her Practical Magic, is a seasonal fall fave. So naturally I’m excited to check out this prequel!

 

 

 

51bn3helxpl-_ac_us218_6. The Revolution of Marina M by Janet Fitch– I love Janet Fitch, and I love historical fiction. I don’t know how Fitch will do with the genre, but I’m excited to see. Even though this takes place in Russia (which I tend to associate with winter rather than fall, though I’m sure they have fall too…) it’s being released in early November.

 

 

41ilzuecpol-_ac_us218_7. Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner- Several things in early reviews of this debut novel from the creator of Mad Men, make me think it’ll be a good fall read. The novel about a privileged Manhattan family and a dangerous young man, has been compared to Patricia Highsmith (even though I called The Talented Mr. Ripley a Summer book in a previous list, I consider her an “Autumn writer” in general), Evelyn Waugh,  and Muriel Spark, who are all writers I tend to associate with autumn. It’s also described as a “classic noir” which I tend to think of as an autumn genre (if such a thing exists)

51qc4pa9qol-_ac_us218_8. Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America by  Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding– By the time this book comes out it’ll be about a year since the 2016 election. I’m holding off on Hilary Clinton’s What Happened, because I think it’s still too raw to read the intelligent, reflective, well considered words of the woman who should have been president. But even though I have a self protective instinct to bury my head in the sand, we do live in the real world and we can’t hide from it all the time. This book looks at how women in such a divided country can unite and support one another. It features contributions from 23 leading feminist writers from all walks of life. 

61me9em-swl-_ac_us218_9. Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer– With a few notable exceptions, murder, especially serial murder, is generally considered a man’s game. We’re often fed a narrative that women are the victims of serial killers rather than being serial killers themselves. Statistics do show that most serial killers are male, but there are notable exceptions and they’re often relegated to easy explanations: hormones, witchcraft, femme fatale, black widow, a man made her do it…. It’s sort of interesting how even with something like murder, we try to place people into categories with which we’re comfortable.

51jqyyajdol-_ac_us218_10.Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdich- I consider Erdich to be another “autumnal author” and this is dystopia, which is a genre I associate with fall (death/endings I suppose). In this book, evolution has reversed itself, which is a concept that I find interesting.

Top Ten Tuesday: Teenage Throwback

For the Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday. A little late in the day today, but it’s still Tuesday!

September 12: Throwback Freebie: Ten Books I Loved During The First Year I Started My Blog, Favorite Books Published 5 or 10 or 15 Years Ago, Ten Older Books I Forgot How Much I Loved, etc. etc. Tweak however you want!

I struggled with this one a bit because I’ve done a post on childhood favorites and touched on them in several other posts as well. I’ve also done American classics. So I decided to look back to my teens.  What was I reading then? I made one or two rules, like if it was for school it doesn’t count. And this is what I ended up with. I actually learned a bit from looking back on my tastes as a teen. Some things I loved then I love now. But as a teen I was into melodrama. I still have a fondness for it, but I also appreciate subtlety now, in a way I didn’t back them.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_1. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– An unnamed heroine meets the handsome, wealthy Maxim DeWinter while working in France. She falls in love and they marry. Maxim is a widower who the owner of Manderley, a mansion in Cornwall. When the heroine arrives at her new home, she finds that Max’s late wife, Rebecca, is still Mrs. DeWinter as far as the staff are concerned. Especially Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper who seems obsessed with Rebecca. The heroine (she doesn’t even get a first name, while her predecessor gets the book title!)  finds her home and her marriage overshadowed by the deceptive legacy of the beautiful, Rebecca. I found a copy of this for $0.50 at a yard sale when I was about 14 and my dad said it was good, so I picked it up. I literally had no idea it was famous and no expectations. I think I read the whole thing in a few days!

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. We can never go back again, that much is certain. The past is still close to us. The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic – now mercifully stilled, thank God – might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion as it had before.”

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews- Catherine Dollanganger lives with her parents, her older brother, Christopher, and her younger siblings, toddler twins named Cory and Carrie. But when their father dies, her mother, Corinne tells the kids that their grandparents (who they’ve never met) are still alive and are very wealthy. They disowned Corinne when she got married, but now they’re willing to take her back. So the Dollangangers go to Foxworth Hall, a Gothic mansion. They’re met by their Grandmother, who  brings them to a room adjoining the attic of Foxworth Hall and locks the door. Corinne’s father won’t give her an inheritance if she had children with their father, but he’s won’t live too long. So the children just have to stay in the attic until he dies. I read this when I was about 13. I don’t know how appropriate it was content wise, but I was utterly enthralled. In retrospect, aspects are obvious. The name “Dollanganger”, a pseudonym that Catherine’s parents made up, looks and sounds an awful lot like “doppelganger”. The oldest kid, Christopher, was named after his father, and Cathy, Cory and Carrie sound an awful lot alike…. A more experienced reader wouldn’t be surprised when the children, confined to the attic, repeat the sins of their parents. But at the time I was totally shocked. I devoured the book and all the sequels, and pretty much everything else Andrews wrote, which was actually only about 8-10 books. Most of the books attributed to Andrews were written by a ghostwriter hired by her family, following her death.

“It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like the sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. ‘Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine.’ Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic.”

61niazvuszl-_ac_us218_3. Intensity by Dean Koontz– I think I started this one Friday afternoon when I was around 14 and didn’t actually put it down until early Saturday morning, when I’d finished. Chyna Shephard is a graduate student, who is visiting the family of her friend, Laura, for a weekend. When Edgar Vess, a serial killer breaks in, he kills Laura’s whole family. He captures Laura; and Chyna, who’d been hiding, secretly follows to try to save her friend. But Laura is killed before that can happen, and Vess starts driving, with Chyna still in back of his motor home. When he stops at a gas station, she sneaks out to find a phone.  She overhears him bragging about Ariel, a young girl who he is holding prisoner in his basement, to the clerks just before he kills them. Chyna  continues, desperate to save Ariel. But before that can happen, Vess captures Chyna too. He’s intrigued by her actions and decides not to kill her right away. But what Vess doesn’t know is that Chyna has already survived an abusive childhood and isn’t going to see another child suffer. Nor will she be a willing victim. I think I admired Chyna when I first read this book. She was sort of like a superhero. Well, a superhero who could have just called the cops from the gas station, told them what she knew about Ariel, given them Vess’ license plate number, and avoided the whole hostage situation. Even as a teen I thought that would be the brighter move….

“The normality of the house terrified her: the gleaming surfaces, the tidiness, the homey touches, the sense that a person lived here who might walk in daylight on any street and pass for human in spite of the atrocities that he had committed.”

4105aauymzl-_ac_us160_4. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb– I think that when I was about 15 or 16 I tried to read all (or most) of the books Oprah picked for her book club. I forget, why. I’m not a huge Oprah fan really…. Anyway, this one resonated with me the most. It explores some  heavy topics: domestic abuse, mental illness, dysfunctional families; but it maintains a certain humor in spite of itself. It’s about a set of twins, one of whom is mentally ill (like in the opening scene he cuts off his hand because he thinks God told him to) and the other who is a productive member of society. The “sane” twin has a strong sense of responsibility toward his sibling. But as he helps his brother through a crisis, he becomes aware of his own self destructive tendencies. I think this was the first book I read that really made it clear that machismo and male posturing can be as damaging to men as misogyny can be to women.

“I didn’t respond to him. Couldn’t speak at all. Couldn’t look at his self-mutilation–not even the clean, bandaged version of it. Instead, I looked at my own rough, stained house painter’s hand. They seemed more like puppets than hands. I had no feelings in it either.”

 

51hkibf29rl-_ac_us218_5. A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett- I think this was one of the books that I discovered on my dad’s bookshelf one day, when I was looking for something to read. I read it when I was home from school sick, and it definitely took my mind off not feeling well.  It starts in Scotland in the 1760’s. Mack McAsh is an indentured coal miner who dreams of freedom. He finds an unlikely ally in Lizzie Hallim, the daughter of a laird, who is, in her own way, just as trapped as Mack is. They make their way to America amid intrigue and danger. In retrospect it was a bit far fetched the way that the novel kept Mack and Lizzie always running into one another, but it also depicts life in the American colonies prior to rebellion, as well as the slow decline of the British empire.

“I pledge this child to work in the mines, boy and man, for as long as he is able, or until he die.”

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_6. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I think I was about 17 or 18 when I first read this. It was the kind of book I breezed through in about a day, but it got me on a “brit chick lit” reading frenzy for a while. I don’t think I’d even read Pride and Prejudice at the time, so I didn’t appreciate this book as an adaptation until I read P&P my freshman year of college…. But I did enjoy on its own.  A lot of reviewers tend to say people relate to Bridget because she’s “everywoman” I disagree. She’s too ridiculous for that. But she’s forthright and honest about her mistakes in her diary. That makes us sympathize with her and root for her.

“It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.”

51qe5e8fmtl-_ac_us160_7. White Oleander by Janet Fitch– After she is sentenced to life in prison after killing her boyfriend, Ingrid’s daughter, Astrid, is sent from one foster home to the next, experiencing all kinds of trauma. When Astrid’s false testimony could set Ingrid free, Astrid makes it clear to her mother that she’ll do it, but it will have a deep psychological cost. This was one of the first books I can remember reading, where I would stop at different points and just appreciate the beautiful prose.

“They wanted the real mother, the blood mother, the great womb, mother of fierce compassion, a woman large enough to hold all the pain, to carry it away. What we needed was someone who bled…mother’s big enough, wide enough for us to hide in…mother’s who would breathe for us when we could not breathe anymore, who would fight for us, who would kill for us, die for us.”

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- I think I was around 16 when I first read this. Of course, now most people are familiar with the TV series, and the fact that as far as dystopias go, this one is looking all too plausible. But it’s  rare that you can pinpoint when you form a definite, strong belief about something, but this book helped shape my views about reproductive rights, women’s rights, and separation of church and state.  My ideas were headed in this direction anyway, but this gave them a definite push.

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I remember I read this my senior year of high school, so I must’ve been about 17. I read it at the same time that my English class was reading Crime and Punishment. I saw strong parallels throughout the novel (though there are also a lot of allusions to Greek Classics) and even noticed that Richard’s narration quotes Dostoevsky at one point. I remember getting all excited and pointing it out to my teacher at one point! Like Crime and Punishment, it explores the psychological and moral deterioration that result from willfully destructive actions. But of course, this has a contemporary setting.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– I read this freshman year of college, so I’d have been about 18 at the time. I was really pulled in by Scarlett as a character. She’s selfish, spoiled, entitled, and stubborn. In another book she might be a villain. But here, we find ourselves rooting for her, in spite of her actions. Melanie, her… well I guess “frenemy” would be the best word…on the other hand was a lovely, kind hearted character who I found far less compelling. Likable, but she wouldn’t keep me reading on her own.

“That is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!”

 

I’ve been…

  • Teaching. I just survived the first week of school which somehow felt like it was about a month long. I have a good class (I think). The kids seem really sweet. But it takes stamina. It’s like those muscles got out of shape over the summer and I need to build them up again!
  • Reading Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly. In it, the author argues that we’ve been misreading Austen’s work all these years. An early 19th century audience would have picked up on references and allusions that a 21st century reader misses. I agree with this much. Austen was far more serious than she’s typically given credit for.  Her novels have also been acknowledged as having a degree of social criticism, but that’s seen as secondary to a prim and proper romance with a slightly mischievous sense of humor. But Austen was less prim and proper than we think. Just the fact that she employed a marriage plot, meant life or death stakes for her characters. Marriages could mean financial ruin for families. Death in childbirth was just a fact of life.  If you read between the lines (which 21st century readers have to do, whereas 19th century readers would need to do far less) it becomes clear that there are many sexual indiscretions, out of wedlock pregnancies, and affairs. However, at times I felt as if, in researching some of what Austen’s novels reference, Kelly was looking to confirm her thesis, which leads to some bias. She also has a tendency to disregard whatever doesn’t support it. While I agree that certain characters have been misread, I don’t interpret everything in the same way that she does. But at times I do agree, and it’s always an interesting perspective.
  • Watching. I’m on season three of Grantchester and still really enjoying it. Though am I the only one who can’t completely embrace Amanda as Sidney’s love interest? Something about her just seems slightly…off.   I also recently discovered The Good Place which is a lot of fun. It’s sort of like Parks and Recreations meets Lost, meets Sartre’s No Exit in sitcom format.

The New York Times “By the Book” Tag

I found this on Thrice Read‘s blog and it spoke to me. I’m curious as to other people’s answers to some of these so please share if you want to!

What book is on your nightstand now?

Actually, physically, on my nightstand? The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell and Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly.

What was the last truly great book you’ve read?

Wow, tough question. I guess that depends on what you mean by “great”. I’ll go with A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara. It’s not an easy book but I think it speaks to the reasons why we struggle through life. It’s about what drives us to survive through all types of hardships. The main character, Jude, endures more tragedy and trauma than anyone should have to. But there is so much about his life that’s beautiful. The writing in the book is also stunning and I think I cried straight through the last 50 pages or so.

If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?

Honestly, the first person I thought of as an answer to this was William Shakespeare. I’d like him to a) clear up the whole “authorship” thing once and for all. Because I’m convinced that anyone who thinks it was someone other than William Shakespeare thinks that out of snobbery, and I’d like to prove it and b) Because I’m curious as to whether he actually believed the stuff in some of his histories or if he was trying to appease a Tudor monarchy.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelf?

My shelves are pretty varied in terms of authors and genres. I have a bit of everything. Maybe The Element Encyclopedia For Magic CreaturesThe Element Encyclopedia For Magic Creatures? I use it for research in my own writing.

How do you organize your personal library?

By genre (roughly). Actually it’s crying out to be reorganized at some point soon!

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What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet?

Millions! Off the top of my head, a few are Precious Bane by Mary Webb, The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan, Half A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and The Time of My Life by Cecelia Ahern.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you are supposed to like but didn’t?

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is the first book that pops into my mind. I felt like I should have liked it. It’s right up my alley: historical fiction, a twist of fantasy, lovely prose… But the story, about a woman who lives her life over again and again, left me cold. I didn’t care about Ursula because ultimately there was no risk. If things went wrong for her, she could always just start over again.

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?

I tend to be drawn to most genres

  • mystery/thriller
  • fantasy/sci fi
  • historical fiction
  • magical realism
  • literary fiction
  • romance (depending on the type)

The exceptions are:

  • religious/spiritual fiction (I’m not very religious and I don’t like feeling that I’m being preached at)
  • erotica
  • really graphic/gory horror
  • nonfiction about subjects in which I have no interest

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Just one? That’s making it really hard! Does the Constitution of the United States count as a book?

What do you plan to read next?

I don’t know for sure. It depends what I’m in the mood for when I’m done with what I’m reading now. If I want something fun and escapist, maybe Blood Rites. It’s been a few months since I last checked in with Harry Dresden. Or if I’m not in the mood for fantasy, maybe Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspar. I don’t think I’ll be up for something too heavy, since school is starting up and that’s somewhat stressful.