Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Book Recommendations for Outlander Fans

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

August 15:  Ten book recommendations for ______________: (Skies the limit here…examples: for Hufflepuffs, for fans of Game of Thrones, for people who don’t normally read YA, for animal lovers, for video game lovers, etc.

Maybe it’s the fact that the 3rd season of the TV series is coming up, but lately I’ve been looking for read alikes to the Outlander series. If you haven’t read Outlander, the series is 8 books in at the moment with a ninth in progress (the author says she expects it to be 10 in all) and it follows the adventures of Claire, a WWII combat nurse who falls through time, and her 18th century husband, Jamie Fraser.  Even though the premise is fantastical, these books are really well researched from a historical perspective. Jamie and Claire find themselves caught up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1845 and later in the Revolutionary war. They interact with actual historical figures and at real events. After eight books, the characters start to feel like old friends. So once you finish the series it can be hard to jump into something else. Here are some suggestions:

51byrmqnal-_ac_us218_1. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (the Wilderness Series) In 1792, Elizabeth Middleton, a 29 year old spinster, arrives in upstate New York. Her father brought her there with promises that she could be a school teacher, but the real motive was to marry her off to Richard Todd, a physician who is more interested in her inheritance than her. Elizabeth finds her attention drawn to Nathaniel Bonner (son of “Hawkeye” Bonner, hero of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans). Nathaniel has a strong connection to the Mohican (Mahican) people. His wife was a Mahican woman who died years earlier. The Mahican want to buy part of their land back from Elizabeth’s father. Richard Todd wants it for his own purposes and Elizabeth finds herself sympathizing with the Mahican claim. Meanwhile, her relationship with Nathaniel leads to more conflict between the Mahican and the European settlers.  This kicks off the start of a six book series (it’s followed by Dawn on a Distant Shore, Lake in the Clouds, Fire Along the Sky, Queen of Swords, and The Endless Forest) that follows Elizabeth, Nathaniel and their family.  Outlander fans should be on the look out for a cameo from some Outlander characters in the first book.

“Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, overly educated and excessively rational, knowing right from wrong and fancy from fact, woke in a nest of marten and fox pelts to the sight of an eagle circling overhead, and saw at once that it could not be far to Paradise.”

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_2. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons (the Bronze Horseman trilogy) -On the day that WWII begins, Russian, Tatiana Metanova goes out to buy some food. On the bus, she meets Alexander Belov, a young soldier in the Red Army. Alexander and Tatiana are drawn to one another immediately, and he helps her bring her packages back to her family’s apartment. That’s when Tatiana discovers that Alexander is the same man that her sister, Dasha, had been talking about falling in love with. Tatiana is very devoted to her sister and refuses to steal her boyfriend. So she tells Alexander that nothing can happen between them. Complicating matters further is the fact that another soldier, Dmitri, has information that could destroy Alexander. And Dmitiri is romantically interested in Tatiana. In order to protect Dasha’s feelings and Alexander’s life, Tatiana and Alexander find themselves draw into a romantic quadrangle, as German forces siege Leningrad.  As the brutal Russian winter begins, Tatiana, Dasha, Alexander, and Dmitiri face starvation, deception and danger. This is the first in a trilogy (it’s followed by Tatiana and Alexander and The Summer Garden). There are also two prequel books that tell the story of Alexander’s parents; Children of Liberty and Bellagrand.

“Tatiana lived for that evening hour with him that propelled her into her future and into the barely formed, painful feelings that she could neither express nor understand. Friends walking in the lucent dusk. There was nothing more she could have from him, and there was nothing more she wanted from him but that one hour at the end of her long day when her heart beat and her breath was short and she was happy.”

515yocsadl-_ac_us218_3. Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon (The Lord John series)- Maybe this is cheating, because it’s technically an Outlander spinoff series, but I’m counting it anyway. We meet Lord John briefly in Dragonfly in Amber, and start getting to know him better in Voyager. The events of this series take place during the events of Voyager, usually while the main Outlander characters are doing other things. Lord John is an interesting character. He’s a good man, and honest by nature, but the reality of the world he lives in forces him to live a lie every day. He’s involved in several mysterious events in this series. There are a few full length novels in addition to this one; Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, and The Scottish Prisoner (Jamie from Outlander is the title character, and a co-narrator in this one) as well as a number of novellas. You find find some information about the books and the suggested reading order here and here.

Tom gave him a look of mingled bewilderment and suspicion, obviously suspecting that Grey had made up the word upon the moment for the express purpose of tormenting him.

51fbqr8a2jl-_ac_us218_4. The Pirate Captain: Chronicles of A Legend by Kerry Lynne (The Pirate Captain series)– This series has faced accusations of being an Outlander rip off (with no time travel) mixed with a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s still a fun read in it’s own right. It takes place in the years after the battle of Culloden. Catherine MacKenzie is the widow of a Scottish rebel. She has survived for several years living secretly London. She gets passage on a ship away only, to be kidnapped in a pirate raid. Captain Nathanael J. E. Blackthorne wanted revenge against the men who destroyed his life. He ended up with Cate MacKenzie as a rather inconvenient hostage. They fall in love but have both been hurt in the past, and are both hesitant to trust. They’re also facing several external threats. This series continues in Nor Gold, and Treasured Treasures (coming in late 2017).

Beset by a chill reminiscent of the more sour days in the Highlands, Cate hunched on the trunk, listening to the gale tear at the windows and doors, clawing to violate her solitary bastion. The ship lurched to dizzying heights, and then sickeningly pitched downward, disorienting one to the point of doubting which way was up. The rain a hammering drone, the wind screaming through every crevice, and the grind of planking combined into a din that battered one to numbness.

31mezqr7t8l-_ac_us218_5. Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner (the Exit Unicorns series) – In 1968 Belfast, Northern Ireland, the lives of three very different characters intersect. Pamela O’Flaherty just arrived in Ireland, after the death of her father, looking for the man that she fell in love with as a child. James Kirkpatrick is a wealthy industrialist who has lost everything he cares about. Casey Riordan is a member of the IRA who just been released after five years in prison. As the lives of these characters intersect, love for people comes into conflict with love for country. Ireland itself is on the brink of revolution. A civil rights movement is building. The changes threaten the lives of these characters and extend them possibilities  they never imagined. There is also a connection to Ireland’s mythical past that skirts the edges of this story; a sense of a lost magic. The series is continued with Mermaid in A Bowl of Tears,  Flights of Angels, and In the Country of Shadows. Brander is working on the next book in the series.

“From the time I was born, I’ve been surrounded by people who had to be strong everyday just to survive. They had to be hard in mind an’ in heart to get from one year to the next. An’ ye’ve seen my back, I’ve known hatred, come to understand it well an’ promised myself I’d never be vulnerable to it again. But I’d no idea that love could make ye ten times more open to destruction. I’ve had men beat me until I was certain there was only a minute or two left between me an’ the grave an’ yet the fists an’ the knives never hurt the way it does when I think of losin’ ye.”

51f5bryehbl-_ac_us218_6. Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson- In 1682, Catriona (Cat) Campbell first meets Alasdair (Dair)  Og MacDonald. They’re little more than children at the time and even though they know they’re supposed to be enemies, they like each other. As they get older that turns into something more. By 1691, King William offers the Highland clans a pardon for their part in the Jacobite Rebellion, as long as they take an oath of allegiance. The Chieftain of the MacDonald takes the oath. Later, when a regiment of soldiers led by the Campbell clan arrives at the MacDonald  household, Highland hospitality demands that they offer them a place to stay. They believe it’s safe, since both clans took the same pledge.  But the Campbells were under orders from Captain Campbell, to slaughter the MacDonalds,  supposedly to show what happens to those who only took the oath under duress. What followed, became known as the brutal Massacre of Glencoe. The longstanding feud between the two clans threatens to tear Cat and Dair apart as they become pawns in the fight. There are times when it feels a bit like a Scottish Romeo and Juliet plotwise but it’s actually very rooted in real history. Alasdair Og MacDonald was a real person, and he did marry a Campbell (though her name was Mary, not Cat).  It’s good for readers who want a well researched historical romance in Scotland with very little bodice ripping!

Such plain, simple words, and so eloquent a declaration. In that moment he shared all the pain, all the insecurities of an awkward lass made to believe she was worthless to any man but a feckless father who preferred whisky and wagers to pride in himself and his daughter.

51em7j9uqel-_ac_us218_7. A Knight in Shining Armour by Jude Devereaux- Dougless Montgomery had been on vacation in England with her boyfriend, when he ditched her in a churchyard with no money, no car, and no passport. She sits down near the grave of Nicholas Stafford, an earl who died in 1564, to have a good cry. When the earl himself shows up Dougless is shocked to say the least! He says that he’s been falsely accused of treason, and he wants to clear his name. Dougless agrees to help. As her falls in love with Dougless, Nicholas realizes he doesn’t want to leave her and go back to his own time. But when he’s pulled back into his own time anyway, Dougless heads back to the 16th century to find him. I’m not usually a “romance” genre reader but I do make exceptions. This was highly recommended and I enjoyed it. Another book by Deveraux that Outlander fans may like is Remembrance.

My soul will find yours.

51dpf3jtk7l-_ac_us218_8.  Green Darkness by Anya Seton– I think many Outlander fans would like most of Seton’s work. It’s well researched historical fiction with a strong focus on human relationships. I would also recommend Devil Water, which deals with a Jacobite rebellion about 30 years prior to Culloden.  This one is a bit different from Seton’s other work though because there’s a supernatural element. In the 1960’s, Richard brings his new wife, Celia to his ancestral lands. Almost immediately the couple begins to act differently. Richard begins to be cruel and Celia has strange fits and visions. It’s a Hindu guru who eventually figures out what’s wrong with the couple. As things begin to get dangerous, it’s obvious that Richard and Celia need to resolve something that happened in their previous lives in order to be happy in this one. Celia goes back to her past life in Tudor England where she was a young woman in a forbidden love affair with a monk.  Only by resolving this couple’s tragic end can Celia and Richard find peace in their 20th century lives.

“As there were no real answers in her life. She was in abeyance. Stuck in a pattern of waiting for a future she could not guess.”

51kvyusq41l-_ac_us218_9. The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley– Once again I think Outlander fans would enjoy a lot of Kearsley’s books. I also recommend Mariana, The Firebird, The Shadowy Horses, and A Desperate Fortune. I chose this one for the list because it’s features time travel in a more prominent way than some of the others. Eva Ward returns to Cornwall following the death of her sister Katrina. It’s the place that Eva remembers being Katrina being happiest, and where she wants to spread Katrina’s ashes. She renews some friendships, but the Cornwall house just isn’t the same without her sister. But when she slips into 1715, and then back to her own time, she worries for her sanity. Eventually her trips to the past get longer. But no matter how long she stays in 1715, no time passes in the 21st century. She returns to the same moment she left.  Eva bonds with Daniel, the 1715 owner of the house and Daniel’s friend Fergal. Daniel is a widower, a smuggler and a Jacobite. As she falls in love with Daniel, Eva begins to question where, and when she belongs. But even if she chooses to stay with Daniel, how is she supposed to handle her knowledge of the future? And how does she avoid getting pulled back to her own time?

“Whatever time we have,” he said, “it will be time enough.”

61wblmzijl-_ac_us218_10. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (Kingsbridge trilogy)- In the 12th century, Prior Phillip of Kingsbridge decides to build a cathedral. He hires Tom Builder to accomplish the task, which eventually falls into the hands of Tom’s stepson, Jack.  Meanwhile, Aliena, the daughter of the Earl of Shiring promises her dying father that she’ll see her brother, Richard, installed in his rightful position as Earl. But she and Richard are soon cast out of their own when their castle is seized. They end up in Kingsbridge, where Jack falls in love with Aliena. But pursuing a future with Jack might mean abandoning her promise to her father.  The “sequel” World Without End takes place about 200 years later. The cathedral is still in the process of being built, though the characters and events of the first book have become the realm of legend. The third, A Column of Fire, will be released in September. It takes place in Kingsbridge Cathedral in 1558. Just a note, Outlander fans may also enjoy Follett’s A Place Called Freedom, which is a love story that begins in Scotland in the 1760’s and eventually moves to the American colonies.

She looked at his young face, so full of concern and tenderness; and she remembered why she had run away from everyone else and sought solitude here. She yearned to kiss him, and she saw the answering longing in his eyes. Every fiber of her body told her to throw herself into his arms, but she knew what she had to do. She wanted to say, I love you like a thunderstorm, like a lion, like a helpless rage; but instead she said: “I think I’m going to marry Alfred.”

Honorable Mention

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (Earth’s Children series) I was hesitant to include this series in the list, because while the first book (Clan of the Cave Bear) was great, and the second, The Valley of Horses was very good, and the third, The Mammoth Hunters was pretty decent, the second half of the series showed a steady decline in quality. The Plains of Passage (book 4) was alright, but a bit redundant. The fifth, The Shelters of Stone was fairly dull and the sixth, The Land of Painted Caves, was hard to finish. So I would suggest that Outlander fans read the first four books which brings the characters to a decent leaving off place. Then ignore the last two books.

I’ve Been…

  • Getting book recommendations with Whichbook. It’s great. Set the sliders according to your mood and get book recs.

whichbook

  • Loving 36 Questions, a new musical written as a podcast. It’s about a married couple in crisis that uses the 36 Questions, an exercise introduced in a NY Times Modern Love essay  that’s supposed to allow strangers to fall in love by asking and answering intimate questions.  The 36 questions were also featured on an episode of The Big Bang Theory.  In the musical podcast we meet a man and a woman who have been married two years, when the man learns that his wife has been lying about her identity the entire time. To save their marriage she insists on doing the 36 questions so that he can get to know the real her. It was written, directed and composed by Chris Littler and Ellen Winter. It stars Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton. If you listen to the podcast and like the songs, you can buy the music from each episode.
  • Also loving Modern Love. It’s a weekly column in the NY Times. Each column features a true love story. Some are happy some aren’t. Some are romantic, and some explore other kinds of love. There’s also a podcast where actors (Debra Winger, Minnie Driver, Emmy Rossum, Laura Dern, Kristin Chenoweth,  Colin Farrell, Michael Shannon, and many others) read the columns.
  • Binge watching Grantchester. Why is murder so much more palatable when it takes place in a small English town 50-60 years ago, and is solved by member of the clergy?
  • Putting some finishing touches on my Beautiful manuscript, and trying to put together a released day and launch plan (stay tuned!)
  • Shocked at how the summer is flying by….

Happy Book Lover’s Day to All!

What are you reading today?

What did you recently finish?

What do you plan to read next?

I’m reading:

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

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I recently finished The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. It was more plot driven than a lot of her other work but still beautifully written and a lot of fun for fans of magical realism.

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I think that my next book will be Night Film by Marisha Pessi, but that might change depending on my mood!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Made Me Laugh Out Loud

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week I decided to focus on ten novels that have made me laugh, giggle, or snort out loud (you might think twice about reading them in public!)

51hq1svllxl-_ac_us218_1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen- This spoof of gothic novels got me into an embarrassing situation on a train. It was a long trip, people were listening to music, reading quietly, doing work…. I was reading this book. I was at the part where our heroine, Catherine, is staying at a grand old house that she’s sure is full of secrets. She discovers a piece of paper one night with writing on it. But it’s too dark to read (this was pre-electricity, remember). So she must wait until sunrise to read it. She’s sure that the paper is someone’s plea for help, or someone’s confession of murder. She builds it up in her mind until, finally the sun rises and she realizes the hidden paper is actually… a laundry list. That gives you an idea of the tone here. Actually it’s ironic that Catherine is so sure that she’ll discover some sensational evil about her new friends that she is initially blind to everyday cruelty, snobbery, and nastiness.

“To be disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity, her actions all innocence, and the misconduct of another the true source of her debasement, is one of those circumstances which peculiarly belong to the heroine’s life, and her fortitude under it what particularly dignifies her character. Catherine had fortitude too; she suffered, but no mumur passed her lips.”

51mlugh65hl-_ac_us218_2. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons– This is also a spoof of so many British writers: Jane Austen, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy and even a bit of DH Lawrence. Flora Poste is orphaned, with only a hundred pounds a year to live on. She doesn’t want to *gasp* get a job! So she moves in with her distant relatives the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.  The mother Judith stays in bed moaning about her son, Seth. Seth is addicted to “talkies” and spends most of his time on the farm impregnating the serving girl. Amos, the father, is a hellfire and brimstone preacher. And then of course there is Aunt Ada Doom who stays room and only comes down to be seen by the family twice a year. But she has good reason. She “saw something nasty in the woodshed…”

“The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.”

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_3. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I’m sure this modern take on Pride and Prejudice is known to many. Those who don’t know the book probably know the film. Regardless it’s funny. A lot of reviewers tend to say people relate to Bridget because she’s “everywoman” I disagree. She’s to ridiculous for that. But most of us have a little bit of Bridget in us. It’s the part that will eat an entire pint of ice cream for breakfast, or sing loudly into a hairbrush while bouncing around the room. Bridget is very forthright about that stuff in her diary, and we laugh because we recognize hints of our own silliness. That allows us to invest in her, even when she’s not using the best judgement. 

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.

51yazpjjl8l-_ac_us218_4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman– I guarantee that the film adaptation of this is familiar to most people. While the movie was great, the book is worth a read too. Unlike the film the frame story isn’t an old man reading the book to his grandson. Rather it’s frame involves the writer, abridging a novel by “S. Morgenstern”, which supposedly is a great story but far too long winded. So he gives us the “good parts” and summarizes the not so good parts. That adds a layer of satire that’s absent from the film.

“See?” Fezzik pointed then. Far down, at the very bottom of the mountain path, the man in black could be seen running. “Inigo is beaten.”
“Inconceivable!” exploded the Sicilian.
Fezzik never dared disagree with the hunchback. “I’m so stupid,” Fezzik nodded. “Inigo has not lost to the man in black, he has defeated him. And to prove it he has put on all the man in black’s clothes and masks and hoods and boots and gained eighty pounds.”

51yltwfpdgl-_ac_us218_5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving– A quick warning: this also made me cry. But the Christmas pageant scene still makes me giggle. The story itself is about a friendship between John, a boy from a wealthy family, and Owen, an unusually short working class boy with a damaged larynx. As kids they play some pretty hilarious pranks, and when Owen is cast as the baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant (they’d used a doll in previous years but he was so small that it seemed like perfect casting) things go horribly awry. Owen has a sarcastic sense of humor and goes on verbal rants at times that made me chuckle. For all those reasons this book goes on the list, even though it deals with some more serious themes.

“No touching Baby Jesus.”
“But we’re his parents!” proclaimed Mary Beth, who was being generous to include poor Joseph under this appellation.
“Mary Beth,” Barb Wiggin said, “if you touch the Baby Jesus, I’m putting you in a cow costume.”

51rqr9-0jel-_ac_us218_6. Storm Front by Jim Butcher– The protagonist of this series, Harry Dresden,  is a professional wizard, and he narrates the books with a dry sense of humor that makes it really great. Business is pretty bad for a Chicago wizard, and Harry spends most of his time working for the police. He helps them solve crimes when those crimes involve things that most people would like to pretend don’t exist (ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and curses). When he encounters a grisly double murder, he suspects black magic may be involved, which means that he’s the only one who can handle the case. Harry’s tone in all the books is wisecracking, sarcastic, and dry, which works really well against the backdrop of all the craziness he encounters.

“Have you ever been approached by a grim-looking man, carrying a naked sword with a blade about ten miles long in his hand, in the middle of the night, beneath the stars on the shores of Lake Michigan? If you have, seek professional help. If you have not, then believe you me, it can scare the bejeezus out of you.”

51zs47eoayl-_ac_us218_7. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion- I found the sequel to the book really tired and borderline offensive, which was a shame because this book was sweet and funny.  Don Tillman is a professor of genetics who isn’t good with social cues and norms and isn’t able to express emotion well. The book never actually says that he has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, but it’s strongly implied that he has Asperger’s. When a friend tells him he’d make a good husband, he decides to embark on The Wife Project. He makes a list of qualities he’d want in a potential wife. Rosie, a woman looking for DNA samples so that she can find her father, has none of those qualities. Don is a man who lives by lists, rules and logic. Which may prevent him from seeing that Rosie would be perfect for him.

“But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact.
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”

51g2gffpw8l-_ac_us218_8. Watermelon by Marion Keyes– On the day Claire gives birth to their first child, her husband tells her he’s leaving her for another woman.  So she decides to take her daughter and go back to the bosom of her madcap family in Dublin. While home with her four sisters, her soap opera addicted mother and bewildered father, Claire starts to build a new life, and even find new love. So when her ex waltzes back in, he’s in for a surprise. This book doesn’t really have any surprises. It’s exactly like what it claims to be: sweet, refreshing but nothing too substantial.

“I knew it, I just knew it! The person who had the job of writing my life’s dialogue used to work on a very low budget soap opera.”

 

51l7cslhhyl-_ac_us218_9. After All These Years by Susan Isaacs- Rosie Meyers have a pretty nice life.  Wealthy husband, big house, enjoyable job, grown children and nice friends. When her husband, Richie, leaves her for another woman just days after their big 25th anniversary party, she’s devastated. But she’s still genuinely shocked to come downstairs for a midnight snack and find Richie’s body in the kitchen with a knife sticking out if it. As far as the police are concerned, she has a perfect motive. So she goes on the lam to find the real killer. Since Rosie is a suburban school teacher, she’s in some pretty unfamiliar territory, and her fish out of water situations are humorous. Her attitude and witty comments add to the fun.

That summer, I went through all the scorned-first-wife stages. Hysteria. Paralysis. Denial: Of course Richie will give up a worldly, successful, fertile, size-six financial whiz-bang for a suburban high school English teacher. Despair: spending my nights zonked on the Xanax I’d conned my gynecologist into prescribing, regretting it was not general anesthesia.

41b2mraamwl-_ac_us218_10. Name Dropping by Jane Heller– Nancy Stern is a preschool teacher. When another woman with the same name moves into her apartment building, there’s a bit of confusion. The new Nancy Stern interviews celebrities, lives in the penthouse, and has a long line of boyfriends. Preschool Nancy gets her mail, deliveries and phone calls on a regular basis, and she feels pretty pathetic next to the Glamorous Nancy. One day Preschool Nancy gets a call intended for Glam Nancy  about a blind date, and in a moment of madness she accepts. She hits it off with the date and is debating when and how to tell him the truth, when Glam Nancy is found dead in her apartment, the victim of murder. However, it soon becomes clear that the wrong Nancy may have been killed. So preschool Nancy finds herself caught up with jewel thieves, murderers, and romance. This isn’t great literature but it’s a lot of fun in an I Love Lucy kind of way.

The other Nancy Stern, I mused after I hung up. A Nancy Stern who’s chummy with ambassadors and movie stars, apparently. A Nancy Stern who travels, shops, dines fine. A Nancy Stern who, according to the American Express lady, lives in 24A, on the rarified penthouse floor of the building, not in 6J, on my thoroughly average floor. A Nancy Stern who, I’d be willing to bet, doesn’t regularly get vomited upon by four-year-olds.

25 Random Things About Me

  1. I’m a night owl. I get so much more done in the few hours before I go to bed than I do in the few hours after I wake up.
  2. I’m incapable of using matches properly. I always think the flame will travel down the match and burn my hands. Or I can’t strike the match the right way.  It just doesn’t work for me.
  3. I’m a city girl. That’s not to say I don’t like the country. I do. But I’d rather live in the city. I love the energy. The vibrancy. I love the sense of shared space, which is great for people watching. I love being able to use public transportation and not needing a car (I hate driving!).
  4. I hate my birthday. I don’t hate the date itself. I hate the fact that it seems to come every year, and each time I get a year older. I started feeling this way when I was around ten. I noticed that I was thrust into the double digits without being ready for it. Then a few years later, I was a teenager, even though I never agreed to it. I’ve made my peace with the whole getting older thing, because I dislike the alternative. But the birthday is a reminder that I don’t need. I’ll take the cake and presents though!
  5. I like background noise when I work. When I work on anything really. Music works alright, but I find TV works better. I’ve found that writing with old sitcom reruns in the background is fairly productive. I’ve read a million articles saying that I should set up a quiet, comfortable work space for writing. But I can’t get anything done like that.
  6. I used to be able to recite the movie Clueless by heart. For some reason this seemed pretty cool when I was a kid.
  7. I hate to cook. But I love to eat. Yeah, that’s a problem. I always wished I was one of those people who loved cooking and made everything from scratch. But it’s not me. I’m the person who orders take out.
  8. I love tea. Hot tea. Iced tea. Tea makes everything just a little bit better.
  9. When I’m reading a large book, I always have a smaller book that can carry around in my purse and so I have something to read on public transportation or in waiting rooms.
  10. I don’t wear make up on a daily basis. I’m not naturally beautiful, just naturally lazy. I’d rather get an extra ten minutes sleep in the morning that spend that time putting on make up.
  11. I’m not superstitious, but I like to knock on wood anyway after I say something. Just in case.
  12. I love opera. If I had to pick a favorite I’d probably say it was “La Traviata“.
  13. When I was in sixth grade I wrote an essay comparing Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, and Pretty Woman.
  14. The first author I ever met was Amy Hest. She did a signing at the library when I was a kid. I remember her holding the book that she’d written, and trying to imagine what it would be like to hold a real book that I’d written.
  15. I never went to my high school prom. My classmates told me I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Pretty in Pink told me I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Never Been Kissed warned the same thing. I don’t regret it yet.
  16. Winter is my favorite season. I love being cuddled up indoors with a good book and hot beverage while it’s cold outside.
  17. I love to take naps.
  18. My hair has never been colored, dyed, or highlighted in any way.
  19. I also don’t own a hair drier. I let it dry on it’s own.
  20. I used to act in plays when I was younger. My stage credits include local, school and summer camp productions of Annie, Oliver, The Wizard of Oz, Free to Be… You and Me, and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (I am not featured in any of the films  linked). I was never very good! I stopped around college when started to  get more into writing. I don’t like reality much. All of my creative pursuits seem to confirm that!
  21. I am absolutely incapable of painting my nails properly. I can do my left hand OK, but my right hand always turns out to be such a mess that I give up and remove the polish.
  22. I’m really bad at telling my right from my left. Luckily I has a small mole on my right hand or I’d never be able to tell them apart!
  23. I don’t like condiments on my food. Ketchup, mustard, mayo… no thanks to any of it!
  24. I legitimately worry about fictional characters
  25. As a writer I’ve very much a “pantser”. As in I write by the seat of my pants. It’s the only thing I do in life that isn’t carefully planned in advance!

And now you know probably more than you ever wanted to about me! Tell me some random facts about you!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books as a Kid

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week I’m featuring some f my favorite books from childhood. For the purposes of this list, I’m considering books that I read under the age of 13.

61zj9bc2qwl-_ac_us218_1. Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak– A lot of kids are drawn to other Sendak work like Where the Wild Things Are and Pierre. I like those too. But there’s a special place in my heart for this book, about  a girl who must save her baby sister, who has been kidnapped by goblins. It’s dark and some kids might find it scary. I know I did! But it was one of those books that was empowering in spite of the fact that it was scary.  The heroine uses the skills and wisdom that she learned from her father, to prove that  scary goblins are ultimately childish bullies themselves.

When Papa was away at sea, and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still- but never watched. So the goblins came. They pushed their way in and pulled the baby out leaving another made all of ice.

51igzsbi-ul-_ac_us218_2. Matilda by Roald Dahl- My dad read this too me when I was about six or seven. I loved Matilda then, and I do now. She was crazy smart, teaching herself to read and do difficult math before kindergarten. She didn’t put up with any bad behavior from anyone- especially the adults who should know better.  Some parts of the story made me and my dad laugh so hard that my mom came in to listen along with us. So it was a family bonding thing as well as a great book. I recently read the book with my students and it was so wonderful to see another generation of kids fall in love with Matilda.

“There aren’t many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,’ Matilda said.
‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked.
‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and love to laugh.”

51-np75sehl-_ac_ul320_sr218320_3. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery- I spoke a bit about my love for Anne here. As far as I was concerned, she was the coolest kid to ever accidentally dye her hair green, get drunk on current wine, or break a slate over the head of a teasing boy. I appreciated the later books in the series at different points in my life, but as a kid, I related most to young Anne in this book.  Later on , I related more to older Anne, as she grew.

“They keep coming up new all the time – things to perplex you, you know. You settle one question and there’s another right after. There are so many things to be thought over and decided when you’re beginning to grow up. It keeps me busy all the time thinking them over and deciding what’s right. It’s a serious thing to grow up, isn’t it, Marilla?”

51srrilel-_ac_us218_4. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott- I read an adapted edition of this book in second grade and immediate sought out the full book. I struggled through it, and eventually made it all the way through a little later on. I loved all the March sisters: Jo was so imaginative and adventurous. Meg was practical and smart. Beth was so kind hearted and Amy was a hopeless romantic. I could relate to all of them on one level or another but I related to Jo the most, because like me, she was an aspiring writer.

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.”

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett- I discussed this one a bit here. I love the story of the orphan in the gothic mansion full of secrets. I loved that she was able to make a place for herself in such a strange place. It was wonderful to see isolated children like Mary and Colin discover friendship and creativity. I soooo wanted to discover a secret garden of my own. A part of me still does.

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”

61bwr8sfvhl-_ac_us218_6. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards– I was about nine when  I read this book. I found it in a store and I decided to read it because it sounded a  lot like The Secret Garden.  Like that one, this was about an orphan who creates a small pace just for herself, and ends up finding a family. I remember about half way through I was loving it so much that I flipped to the “About the Author” page at the end of the book and I was shocked to see that “Julie Edwards” was the married name of Julie Andrews, the Academy Award winning actress best known for films like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins! I also discovered that she’d written several other novels for children. They’re all lovely but this one is by far my favorite!

“Mandy tidied the weeds and pulled out some of the summer flowers. It saddened her to do so. She was parting with beloved friends.”

51uvxo85zl-_ac_us218_7. The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell– This is based on the true story of Karana, a Native American of the Nicoleno tribe, living on San Nicholas Island in the 19th Century. When her tribe falls on hard times the new chief leaves via canoe to find a new land. Eventually he sends a large canoe for the others to join him.  Karana and her brother are left behind. They live alone on the island until her brother’s death, when Karana is completely isolated. She befriends the animals living on the island and makes a life for herself for eighteen years. I suppose the idea of being completely alone for that long fascinated and horrified me as a kid. I tried to imagine how this girl must have felt and how she could have survived.

“After that summer, after being friends with Won-a-nee and her young, I never killed another otter. I had an otter cape for my shoulders, which I used until it wore out, but never again did I make a new one. Nor did I ever kill another cormorant for its beautiful feathers, though they have long, think necks and make ugly sounds when they talk to each other. Nor did I kill seals for their sinews, using instead kelp to bind the things that needed it. Nor did I kill another wild dog, nor did I try to speak another sea elephant.
Ulape would have laughed at me, and other would have laughed, too — my father most of all. Yet this is the way I felt about the animals who had become my friends and those who were not, bu in time could be. If Ulape and my father had come back and laughed, and all the other had come back and laughed, still I would have felt the same way, for animals and birds are like people, too, though they do no talk the same or do the same things. Without them the earth would be an unhappy place.”

51dtol9n8al-_ac_us218_8. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder- As a kid I was sort of fascinated by the idea that most of humanity existed without the comforts that I enjoyed every day. On one hand I thought that it might be kind of fun to live off the land and your own hard work. But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my running water to try it. I kept my homesteading confined to the page!

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy 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.”

51syki73tbl-_ac_us218_9. Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume– This is the first book that I remember made me laugh out loud. It was another book that my parents read to me when I was very young. I liked the depiction of the sibling relationship.

Some people might think that my mother is my biggest problem. She doesn’t like turtles and she’s always telling me to scrub my hands. But my mother isn’t my biggest problem. Neither is my father. He spends a lot of time watching commercials on TV. That’s because he’s in the advertising business. My biggest problem is my brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher. He’s two-and-a-half years old. Everybody calls him Fudge. I feel sorry for him if he’s going to grow up with a name like Fudge, but I don’t say a word. It’s none of my business.

51bkx0sulel-_ac_us218_10. Ramona the Pest by Beverley Cleary– Ramona Quimby was my spirit animal as a kid. I could relate to her. She never really meant any harm, but she always got herself into trouble anyway. I liked other characters in the series; Ramona’s sister Beezus, and their neighbor Henry, but this was the first to have Ramona as the protagonist.

“She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.”

“I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free.”

Happy 199th Birthday to Emily Bronte!
I remember when I first read Wuthering Heights. I was in high school. I had read (and loved) Jane Eyre the previous year. I figured that since the authors were sisters, and Wuthering Heights had a reputation as a love story, I would be in for a similar experience. But instead of moving through the narrative with a heroine I could root for, like I did with Jane Eyre, I found myself outside of the narrative, looking for a way in. My narrators were all outsiders. Nelly Dean, a housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, tells the story to Lockwood, a visitor. Those narrative frames made me feel like there was something I wasn’t seeing- some kernel of truth that was just outside my field of vision.

heathcliffInstead of a sweeping romance, I met two of the most selfish lovers in English literature. Heathcliff and Cathy’s love was on some level narcissistic. Look at the way they talk about one another :“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”  and  “I have not broken your heart – you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.”  Neither one has a sense of identity without the other, or rather each has a personal identity in the other. Instead of stopping the book when one of the lovers dies (which is when most film adaptations end) Bronte keeps the story going: we see the next generation that suffers for the sins of their parents before bringing everything full circle. I couldn’t understand why people referred to Heathcliff as a romantic hero. If anything, most of his actions were villainous. His love for Cathy was deeply disturbing. But if Wuthering Heights were the “tragic romance” that it’s often mistaken for, he would be the hero. So the reader is tempted to force him into a role that he doesn’t quite fit.

I can’t say that I enjoyed it the first time I read it, but I was sort of obsessed by it. I  was uncomfortable with the fact that I felt outside the story when all I wanted was to be in it. I read it again in college, and I felt like I was closer to finding a way in on my second read through. For my senior project in college I wrote my first novel. I imagined the life of Isabella Linton, a side character whom Heathcliff marries and torments as revenge against her brother. Isabella was the romance reader, who sees Heathcliff in the “romantic hero” role and she suffers for that mistake for the rest of her life. I made Isabella a stand in for my own reading experience. Like me she was just outside of events that she didn’t completely understand. Like me she had expectations of one thing, and was instead given a dark, twisted version of it. In retrospect, I don’t think that my novel was very good, but it gave me what I’d been looking for: a way into Wuthering Heights.

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Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, and the moors between them are sort of like an alternate universe. The reader can get a basic, “what happened next” idea of events by looking at them from the outside. But in order to get the full experience, the reader needs to live there for a while. To read and reread. To see that world through different eyes.

Emily Bronte died at the age of thirty, one year after the publication of Wuthering Heights. Aside from the novel, her only published writing  is poetry. She had begun a second novel, but no manuscript has ever been found. So we’re left with this book: brilliant, beautiful, confusing. It leaves more questions than answers about Emily Bronte, her mind, and the way she saw and experienced the world.

On Anne With An “E”: My Review

Full disclosure: I’ve loved Anne of Green Gables since I was a third grader who first read the book. I wanted to be Anne. I toyed with naming my house but calling myself “Fran of Split Level Ranch” or “Fran of White Walls” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And “Fran” just isn’t a name that can work with an “e”…  I saw the 1985 miniseries on video (remember VHS?) and loved it. So for over two decades I’ve pictured Anne as Megan Fellows. I had such a crush on Johnathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe. When I heard that Netflix was adapting LM Montgomery’s novel, I was a bit apprehensive. But I was still hopeful. I waited until I had some time to really settle in with the show before I watched and formed and opinion. Now I’ve done that.

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The Netflix series, which has inexplicably renamed Anne of Green Gables “Anne with an ‘E'”, didn’t quite reach the level of the Kevin Sullivan miniseries with their adaptation, but I wouldn’t call this  adaptation wholly unsuccessful. That’s largely because the strong performance of Amybeth McNulty in the lead. She’s able to carry the series and bring it all together. We also get strong work from Geraldine James and RH Thomson, as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. That goes a long way toward rescuing the series from its follies.

But there seemed to be an insistence on making the series dark and gritty. This compromises it as an adaptation. In the original novel, and other adaptations we don’t really learn much about Anne Shirley’s life prior to her arrival at Green Gables. We know the broad strokes: she was orphaned as a baby, she worked taking care of the Hammond family, and she lived in an orphanage. If we look at the things that happened to young orphans at the beginning of the twentieth century, it’s likely that Anne would have encountered cruelty or abuse at some point in her early life. And given what we know about the nature of childhood trauma, it makes sense that she’d be affected by it. But Anne, as a character, is by nature cheerful and optimistic. Even when in “the depths of despair” she’s always hopeful that her fortunes will change. This worldview is what endears her to the inhabitants of Avonlea.

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While the Anne of this series is more hesitant to trust, she’s still generally what one would call hopeful. But the show itself seems to revel in the bleakness of her past. Before we even meet Anne, we see her being berated and abused via flashback by Mrs. Hammond. We’re treated to several more of these,  in just the first episode. We also see the chaotic, harsh orphanage that she came from.

In the book, Anne’s unconventional outlook occasionally causes difficulty in social interactions. However, her lively imagination, and sunny disposition make her generally popular. In this series’ Avonlea, Anne must deal with bullying from her classmates, and sneering from their parents.  When Anne suffers, we often see a scene that’s gorgeously shot, with the camera lingering on Anne’s panic.  In a way that undermines what makes Anne appealing. Her romantic imagination and optimistic open heart are not only character traits, but survival mechanisms. That interplay can have tension and nuance. But here that’s all drowned out by melodrama.

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Anne was always a sort of proto-feminist. She was smart, and (perhaps by necessity) independent. But here she’s a bit too on the nose. She never misses an opportunity to preach gender equality.  We see Anne get her first period and argue that there should be no shame associated with menstruation. We see her attempt to decide whether to be a wife or to be her “own woman.”  While I agree with Anne’s opinions on these issues, her saying these things makes her seem more at home in the twenty first century than in the beginning of the twentieth.

But my biggest complaint is that character development and nuance are abandoned in favor of  manufactured drama. When Anne is bullied at school she refuses to go. A minister talks to her and tells her that she shouldn’t have to go because it’s more important that she stays home and learns to be a good wife. That might not have been intended as reverse psychology, but it works that way. The problem is that it doesn’t serve much dramatic purpose. It puts an obstacle in Anne’s way (the minister’s disapproval) that doesn’t need to be there. Anne’s own stubborn pride already serves as an obstacle.

We are treated to scenes where Anne save a house on fire. Literally. She runs through, closing the doors and windows, thereby depriving it of oxygen. The combination of foolhardy heroics and quick thinking makes Anne come off as more of a superhero than a bright, awkward, thirteen year old, figuring life out as she goes along.

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Another mistake is made when Gilbert Blythe’s father is killed off. So Gilbert and Anne bond over both being orphans. This was a big sin. In the book, and other adaptations, Anne matures beyond holding a grudge against Gilbert on the basis of childhood teasing. Instead of trusting the character development to accomplish that,  the series invented events to push the relationship.

Anne of Green Gables has endured for over a century because different generations can find things to like about a heroine who is proud, complicated, and good hearted. She’s not just one thing. She’s got different, sometimes contradictory impulses at different points. Seeing these various aspects of her personality play out against the simple life at Green Gables is fun, funny, and poignant. Instead of trusting that complexity and development, this series felt the need to impose a grim tone and sensational events.

I was invested in the show as I watched it. It was enjoyable. Some favorite moments were still there (Anne breaking the slate over Gilbert’s head, the raspberry cordial, Anne saving Minnie May, the dress with puff sleeves). But it wasn’t the Anne of Green Gables that I love.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books About Books

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week, I’m featuring some great books about books:

1. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman– This is a collection of essays about the authors lifelong love of books. She played with books rather than blocks as a child. She only considered herself to be married once she and her husband had merged libraries. The greatest gift she ever got was 19 pounds of dusty books.  These reflections are an exploration of the wonderful quirks of bibliophiles.

“You mean we’re going chronological order within each author?” he gasped. “But no one even knows for sure when Shakespeare wrote his plays!”
“Well,” I blustered, “we know he wrote Romeo and Juliet before The Tempest. I’d like to see that reflected on our shelves.”
George says that was one of the few times he has seriously contemplated divorce.”

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2. How to Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis– Samantha Ellis is a lifelong bookworm. In this book, she revisits and rereads her favorites from the past. How do childhood favorites hold up against lifetime experience? How do heroines of the past live up to feminist standards?

“All my heroines, yes, even the Little Mermaid, even poor, dull, listless Sleeping Beauty, have given me this sense of possibility. They made me feel I wasn’t forced to live out the story my family wanted for me, that I wasn’t doomed to plod forward to a fate predetermined by God, that I didn’t need to be defined by my seizures, or trapped in fictions of my own making, or shaped by other people’s stories. That I wanted to write my own life.”

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3. The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons From Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder  by Erin Blackmore– This one is similar to How To Be A Heroine but it’s less personal. It’s more of a look at how contemporary women can learn from past heroines.

“I am here to posit that it’s exactly in these moments of struggle and stress that we need books the most. There’s something in the pause to read that’s soothing in and of itself. A moment with a book is basic self-care, the kind of skill you pass along to your children as you would a security blanket or a churchgoing habit.”

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4. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett– This is a novella that imagines the Queen of England, becoming enamored of books later in life. The books she reads make her consider the world in different ways. Is she being selfish and isolated by wanting to bury herself with a book? Or does reading allow her to empathize with people in a unique way? Opinions are varied.

The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference; there was something undeffering about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers are equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic. . . [reading] was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. Here in these pages and between these covers she could go unrecognized.

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5. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell– This has a sequel titled More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops. I worked in a bookshop one summer and I can vouch for the fact that customers do say some weird things! I heard something like this more than once:

CUSTOMER: I read a book in the sixties. I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?

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6. Texts from Jane Eyre: and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg– If Mr. Rochester could text, he would do so all in caps. Obviously. If Daisy Buchanan had a smart phone she would only use it when driving.  What would you imagine Sherlock’s texts to Watson would look like? What about Ron’s text’s to Hermione? Gertude’s texts to Hamlet? Find out here!

-I KNEW IT
DID YOU LEAVE BECAUSE OF MY ATTIC WIFE
IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT

-yes
Absolutely

-BECAUSE MY HOUSE IN FRANCE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ATTIC
IF THAT’S WHAT YOU WERE WORRIED ABOUT
IT HAS A CELLAR THOUGH SO YOU KNOW
DON’T CROSS ME
HAHA I’M ONLY JOKING”

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7. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi- Once a week, for two years, Azar Nafisi, and seven of her female students in the Islamic Republic of Iran, gathered together to read and discuss forbidden western literature. This book made me realize that reading a novel could, in fact, be one of the most subversive political acts.

I have a recurring fantasy that one more article has been added to the Bill of Rights: the right to free access to imagination. I have come to believe that genuine democracy cannot exist without the freedom to imagine and the right to use imaginative works without any restrictions. To have a whole life, one must have the possibility of publicly shaping and expressing private worlds, dreams, thoughts and desires, of constantly having access to a dialogue between the public and private worlds. How else do we know that we have existed, felt, desired, hated, feared?

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8. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf- Men have a thousand years of literature to reflect their experience. Women have about a hundred. Why? Well, before that, women weren’t educated or encouraged to be readers and writers.  So how do women find a place for themselves in the literary canon? How do they insert their lives and experience into literary discourse? According to Woolf the process begins with a woman having a little bit of money and a room of her own.

My belief is that if we live another century or so — I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals — and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.

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9. The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain- This is a tough book to explain. Leonard Shlain looks at the history of humanity and shows how and why so many pre-literate societies were matriarchal, right brained models that espoused feminine values. When literacy was introduced to society, it drove cultures to more linear left brained thinking. The result of this was patriarchy and misogyny. Slain doesn’t argue for getting rid of literacy. He claims that being aware of this shift can help combat its affects. I don’t know if I completely buy into his theory, but it’s notable that witch hunts tended to pop up in societies where a printing press was recently introduced; and that when society became more image based women’s rights started to gain momentum.

A medium of communication is not merely a passive conduit for the transmission of information but rather an active force in creating new social patterns and new perceptual realities.

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10. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar– I love nineteenth century literature. From Jane Austen to the Bronte’s, to Mary Shelly, to George Eliot, this book examines how female writers established a more complex depiction of femininity and female relationships than had been depicted previously. The title of course, refers to the character of Bertha in Jane Eyre. How we approach this character says a lot about how we read the book. Is it a Cinderella story or a Bluebeard tale? I don’t always agree with everything in this book but it has been a hugely influential work of literary criticism, that will make you reread many old books with new eyes.

A life of feminine submission, of ‘contemplative purity,’ is a life of silence, a life that has no pen and no story, while a life of female rebellion, of ‘significant action,’ is a life that must be silenced, a life whose monstrous pen tells a terrible story.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Houses

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week, I decided to give a shout out to some of my favorite literary houses. A great setting can be like a character, and these houses are very much a part of their respective worlds.

1. Thornfield Hall from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– A large, grand mansion on the moors, with a great library, a cute kid, a loving master, lots of servants, and something very strange happening in the attic….

The hall-door, which was half of glass, stood open; I stepped over the threshold. It was a fine autumn morning; the early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves and still green fields; advancing on to the lawn, I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery…

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North Lees Hall is said to be Charlotte Bronte’s inspiration for Thornfield Hall

2. Manderley from Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– I consider Rebecca and Jane Eyre to be sort of literary cousins; both feature a heroine arriving at a large house full of servants and a master with Bluebeard-ish tendencies. But Manderley is in Cornwall. Our unnamed heroine marries it’s master Maxim De Winter only to discover that Manderley is haunted by the memory of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. A memory that is faithfully kept alive by one of the creepiest literary housekeeper’s ever.

The peace of Manderley. The quietude and the grace. Whoever lived within its walls, whatever trouble there was and strife, however much uneasiness and pain, no matter what tears were shed, what sorrows borne, the peace of Manderley could not be broken or the loveliness destroyed. The flowers that died would bloom again another year, the same birds build their nests, the same trees blossom. That old quiet moss smell would linger in the air, and the bees would come, and crickets, the herons build their nests in the deep dark woods. The butterflies would dance their merry jug across the lawns, and spiders spin foggy webs, and small startled rabbits who had no business to come trespassing poke their faces through the crowded shrubs. There would be lilac, and honeysuckle still, and the white magnolia buds unfolding slow and tight beneath the dining-room window. No one would ever hurt Manderley. It would lie always in its hollow like an enchanted thing, guarded by the woods, safe, secure, while the sea broke and ran and came again in the little shingle bays below.

3. Wuthering Heights from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– The action of Wuthering Heights takes places at two houses, Wuthering Heights, and Thrushcross Grange. Thrushcross Grange is polite and civilized. Wuthering Heights embodies everything that is wild and dangerous about the moors. Most dangerous, perhaps, is Heathcliff, a character who can’t comfortably be classified as a “hero” or a “villain”.

Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling, “wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed. One may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house, and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.

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Top Withens; an abandoned farm thought to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.

4. Green Gables from Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery– Taking a break from the gothic, this pastoral house in the fictional town of Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, is home to the plucky red headed orphan, Anne. It’s a place of learning and hard work, but also of laughter and love.

“I came to the conclusion, Marilla, that I wasn’t born for city life and that I was glad of it. It’s nice to be eating ice cream at brilliant restaurants at eleven o’clock at night once in a while; but as a regular thing I’d rather be in east gable at eleven, sound asleep, but kind of knowing even in my sleep that the stars were shining outside and the wind was blowing in the firs across the brook.”

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Green Gables as seen in the 1985 television miniseries.

5. Tara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– When the civil war takes southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara’s, familiar world away, she clings to her family home and plantation, Tara, with an iron grasp. Almost everything she does is to protect Tara and to keep it in her possession. Whenever she feels like all is lost, she goes to Tara.

Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills. Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues. The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed pinkish on the sandy tops of furrows, vermilion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches. The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into surf. For here were no long, straight furrows, such as could be seen in the yellow clay fields of the flat middle Georgia country or in the lush black earth of the coastal plantations. The rolling foothill country of north Georgia was plowed in a million curves to keep the rich earth from washing down into the river bottoms.

It was a savagely red land, blood-colored after rains, brick dust in droughts, the best cotton land in the world. It was a pleasant land of white houses, peaceful plowed fields and sluggish yellow rivers, but a land of contrasts, of brightest sun glare and densest shade. The plantation clearings and miles of cotton fields smiled up to a warm sun, placid, complacent. At their edges rose the virgin forests, dark and cool even in the hottest noons, mysterious, a little sinister, the soughing pines seeming to wait with an age-old patience, to threaten with soft sighs: “Be careful! Be careful! We had you once. We can take you back again.”

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Tara, as seen the the 1939 film

6. Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett– Yes, the garden is the main attraction for readers, but you can’t have a secret garden without a creepy old manor. Misselthwaite has over 100 rooms filled with secrets, a heartbroken master, and the hidden promise of life somewhere outdoors.

All she thought about the key was that if it was the key to the closed garden, and she could find out where the door was, she could perhaps open it and see what was inside the walls, and what had happened to the old rose-trees. […] Besides that, if she liked it she could go into it every day and shut the door behind her, and she could make up some play of her own and play it quite alone, because nobody would ever know where she was, but would think the door was still locked and the key buried in the earth. The thought of that pleased her very much.

7. Satis House in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens–  Long ago, Satis House was done up for the wedding of it’s mistress, the young Miss Havisham. Unfortunately she was left at the alter. Since then nothing has changed. The tables are still set, the rooms are still decorated. Miss Havisham has never left and can still be seen lurking around the wreckage in her wedding dress.

So unchanging was the dull old house, the yellow light in the darkened room, the faded spectre in the chair by the dressing-table glass, that I felt as if the stopping of the clocks had stopped Time in that mysterious place, and, while I and everything else outside it grew older, it stood still.

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Dickens (who lived nearby) used aspects of Restoration House in South East England, when describing Satis house.

8. Dragonwyck from Dragonwyck by Anya Seton– This lesser known novel by Anya Seton has a lot in common with Jane Eyre and Rebecca, in terms of character and plot. But Dragonwyck is a patroonship (click for more info on what that is) and that informs the mentality and motivations of one of the main characters in this book. Just how twisted can the “lord of the manor” be, and still get away with it? When his wife is awakened to the injustice of the system, she’s no longer blinded by love for her husband and the beauty of his estate.

Yes,” Nicholas replied, in a bored voice. “The name is Dutch. Dragonwyck, meaning place of the dragon. It derives from an Indian legend about a flying serpent whose eyes were fire and whose flaming breath withered the corn.” “Heavens!” With a light laugh, Miranda asked her new employer if the red men had sent forth a champion to do battle with the dragon.The patroon’s face was dark, unsmiling. “To appease him the wise men of the tribe sacrificed a pure maiden on the rocky bluff you see above you.”Miranda’s laughter died. Something in Nicholas Van Ryn’s cruel, handsome features made her imagine herself in the Indian maiden’s place.

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Dragonwyck as imagined in the 1946 film adaptation of the novel.

9.  Howards End in Howards End by EM Forester– The fate of this Hertfordshire country house represents the future of the British empire and class divides of England. The fact that it’s called Howards End should be a clue as to what the predictions are for the future.  The fate of this house is tied up in the dynamics of three families. The Schlegels are middle class, intellectual and impractical; the Wilcox’s are upper class, materialistic, and pragmatic; and the working class Basts are deprived but  hopeful.

Why did we settle that their house would be all gables and wiggles, and their garden all gamboge-coloured paths? I believe simply because we associate them with expensive hotels–Mrs. Wilcox trailing in beautiful dresses down long corridors, Mr. Wilcox bullying porters, etc. We females are that unjust.

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Preppard Cottage was used as the house in the 1992 film adaptation of Howard’s End.

10.  Villa Villekulla from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren– This was my dream house when I was about eight years old. I think it would be most kid’s dream home. Pippi lives there with no parents, or relatives (but with a pet monkey and a horse….). The kids next door, Tommy and Annika, come over the play a lot, and the tree outside the house grows soda. What’s not to love?

“But first I must introduce you to Mr. Nilsson,” said Pippi, and the little monkey took off his cap and bowed politely.
Then they all went in through Villa Villekulla’s tumbledown garden gate, along the gravel path, bordered with old moss-covered trees–really good climbing trees they seemed to be–up to the house, and onto the porch. There stood the horse, munching oats out of a soup bowl

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This house, on the Swedish island, Gotland, was used for Villa Villakula in the 1969 film, Pippi Longstocking, and the TV series of the early 1970’s.