Top Ten Tuesday: Book Quotes About Hope

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

May 25: Book Quotes that Fit X Theme (Pick any theme you want, i.e., motivational quotes, romantic dialogues, hunger-inducing quotes, quotes that fill you with hope, quotes on defeating adversity, quotes that present strong emotions, healing, etc. and then select quotes from books that fit that theme.)

Foe this one I decided to go with quotes about hope. Because we always need a little hope:

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” This is used in Coraline by Neil Gaiman, but the source is actually debatable.

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only someone remembers to turn on the light.” From Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

“So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.” From The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster


“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” From The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

“Hope like that, as I thought before, doesn’t make you a weak person. It’s hopelessness that makes you weak. Hope makes you stronger, because it brings with it a sense of reason. Not a reason for how or why they were taken from you, but a reason for you to live. Because it’s a maybe. A ‘maybe someday things won’t always be this sh*t.’ And that ‘maybe’ immediately makes the sh*ttiness better.” From The Book of Tomorrow by Cecilia Ahearn

“Reader, do you think it is a terrible thing to hope when there is really no reason to hope at all? Or is it (as the soldier said about happiness) something that you might just as well do, since, in the end, it really makes no difference to anyone but you?” From The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

“And remember: you must never, under any circumstances, despair. To hope and to act, these are our duties in misfortune.” From  Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

“That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again.” From Winter by Ali Smith

“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.” From A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

“It’s not that we had no heart or eyes for pain. We were all afraid. We all had our miseries. But to despair was to wish for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable…What was worse, to sit and wait for our own deaths with proper somber faces? Or to choose our own happiness? So we decided to hold parties and pretend each week had become the new year. Each week we could forget past wrongs done to us. We weren’t allowed to think a bad thought. We feasted, we laughed, we played games, lost and won, we told the best stories. And each week we could hope to be lucky. That hope was our only joy. And that’s how we came to call our little parties Joy Luck.” From The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

International Women’s Day Reads

March 8th is International Women’s Day. Women have done amazing things throughout history (often with no credit) and continue to do amazing things every day. Here are some books that I’d suggest to female (or any) readers who want to explore, celebrate, and understand womanhood.

1.

How to Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis and The Heroine’s Bookshelf are two books that look at how female protagonists have been portrayed in literature, and how these depictions have influenced the authors.

51-74n0euhl-_ac_us218_2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf- In this extended essay Woolf asserts that there have been female literary geniuses throughout history and that the reason that so many go unknown is that women have traditionally not been educated and encouraged to write, as men have. They’ve been pushed in other directions. Even when they did produce great literature it was often anonymous or under pseudonyms, so their work could be judged on its own merits. “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman,” she says. Contemporary female writes still face sexism which doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. But enough of us “have money and a room of [her] own,” (what Woolf saw as the necessities if a woman is to write fiction) so that women are a very real force in publishing.

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood– Atwood’s feminist dystopia is frighteningly close to reality, unfortunately. But then Atwood has said that when writing her tale Gilead (once the United States) she set a rule for herself: “I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time.” She makes a strong case for why a woman’s ability to control and make decisions about her own body cannot be separated from discussions of feminism, or humanity for that matter.

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_4. Americanah by Chimiamanda Ngozi Adichie- Obviously the lens of my own experience is limited. It’s limited by various factors: education, economics, race, gender and a million others. Everyone has those limits to some extent. Adichie’s work helps us step outside those limitations for a little while. It can help us understand what the world may be like for someone different. In this case, I’m very different from Ifemelu, the female protagonist in this novel. But it allowed me to see some of the struggles that an immigrant woman of color faces in the US, in contrast to her native Nigeria. It also shows what life is like for a Nigerian woman in her home country. Ifemelu’s race and nationality influence how she is perceived in both countries. Through allowing me to see how Ifemelu’s race and gender affect her life, this book helped me see how my own life has been shaped by those factors in a very different way.

51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_5. The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess by Leonard Shalin– This is the only book in this post written by a man, but it may be of interest to anyone interested in gender issues. During pre-literate times, feminine values were dominant. Goddesses were worshiped and a lot of societies had a matriarchal structure. This changed with the rise of alphabetic literacy, which reconfigured the human brain. The act of learning to read exercises the left hemisphere of the brain, making it dominant over the right, which is more holistic and visual. The left brain is linked to masculine values and the right to feminine. As Western culture became more literate there was an insistence on a male deity and a rise in misogyny. Interestingly if you look at major witchhunts in the last millennium, they tend to happen within about a hundred years of a printing press being introduced to that part of the word. Does this explain why the past 2000 years have seen so much subjugation of women? That’s up to the reader to decide. It’s definitely an interesting thesis.

 

 

The Books that Made Us Feminists

This article came out in The Guardian yesterday. In it, a lot of female writers (Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, Jeanette Winterson etc) discuss the literary work that made them feminists. Some of the answers were predictable (The Female Eunuch, The Second Sex) and others less so (The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch was a favorite of mine and Mary Beard; The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather, Middlemarch by George Eliot,  An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria by Sigmund Freud, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson).  Naturally this made me think about the books that made me a feminist.

The first question I asked was “did books make me a feminist?” Perhaps in part. I think that my parents were huge influences in making me a feminist. My mom is a fierce, strong, loving, generous woman. My dad is one of those rare men who sees women as people; actual human beings who are worthy of the same respect and consideration as men. So having those role models was instrumental. But my parents also read to me. A lot. When I learned how, they encouraged me to read for myself. They recommended a wide range of books. I think they were both instrumental in making me a feminist and making me a reader. And reading definitely strengthened my feminism.

51fkpmqzdyl-_ac_us218_Perhaps the first book to get me thinking in that direction was Jane Eyre. To be clear, I was already of the opinion that women are capable of far more than they’re given credit for. That was a belief that wasn’t uncommon in the media that I consumed as a teen. But reading about a woman in the 19th century, written by a woman of the 19th century, who not only espouses those beliefs but lives her life by them was a bit of a revelation. Jane was a character born “poor, obscure, plain, and little” and finds herself thrust into what seems like an almost Cinderella-like situation. Her wealthy employer, with whom she is in love, wants to marry her. But when she realizes that the marriage would compromise her principles she walks away from love and financial security in order to be true to herself.

“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

Not only was this the first time that such an idea  was so clearly laid out, but it was laid out by a woman who, based on circumstances seemed to have won a jackpot. Career prospects for a 19th century woman were limited to say the least. Marriage prospects for someone with no money and not much in the way of looks were also not great. Jane had no family to fall back on. But she lived according to her principles, consenting to marry only when she, and Mr. Rochester were in positions where it wouldn’t compromise her integrity to do so.

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_I read Jane Eyre as a teenager. I think it was during my sophomore year of high school. A few years later I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which highlighted just how much of a public space women’s bodies are. Not only are they used to sell everything from clothing to jewelry to  and fitness, but people feel that they have every right to tell a grown woman what she can do with her body. The choice to share her body with someone should belong to the woman in question. Instead it often becomes a public discussion. Is what this woman doing “moral” or “right”? Those questions are seldom asked of men. If a woman is pregnant her body becomes even more public. In her novel, Margaret Atwood took all of these ideas, which are so prevalent and pushed them just a little bit further. She created a society in which fertile women are stripped of their names and given the names of the men to whom they “belong”. In this society, women have no agency regarding their bodies. They are required to be part of a fertility ritual, if they conceive they must bear the children and then given them away. Essentially they are denied personhood and defined only by their bodies.

“I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.”

This highlighted how much of some physical aspects of womanhood are considered public domain in our society (while others, such as menstruation, are inexplicably taboo) and it pushed my thinking further in the direction in which it was already heading.

51hapmjw7cl-_ac_us218_When I was in college, I encountered Virginia Woolf for the first time. A Room of One’s Own highlighted how much of our literary tradition has been defined by men. Women’s voices have traditionally be silenced. That’s not because they haven’t had the talent or the ideas. It’s because they lived in a world that wasn’t willing to listen. In this book, Woolf imagines that Shakespeare had a sister of equal genius. But she was illiterate. She was never educated or encouraged and she never wrote a word. Obviously if that were true it would be a tremendous loss for humanity. According to Woolf it is all to possible:

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

She therefore leaves us with a call to action:

Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. For I am by no means confining you to fiction. If you would please me – and there are thousands like me – you would write books of travel and adventure, and research and scholarship, and history and biography, and criticism and philosophy and science. By so doing you will certainly profit the art of fiction. For books have a way of influencing each other. Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with poetry and philosophy.”

I think that seeing so many female writers, of different ages, genres, and experiences talking about the books that made them feminists, means that her words were headed. We can never know what talent was never developed because of people feeling threatened or being small minded. But we can work to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the future.

Did these books “make me a feminist”? I don’t know. Perhaps I was already a feminist and these books gave me a vocabulary for my ideas. Or perhaps them illuminated aspects of feminism that I might not otherwise have considered. But the literary work of other women has definitely shaped my thinking, and it’s been interesting to reflect on how.

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.”

41wjujfmkyl-_ac_us218_

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.”

51r0lxqtqll-_ac_us218_

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.”

51tnsmb5edl-_ac_us218_

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.

51gxczk1wal-_ac_us218_

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?

61zq34o6r8l-_ac_us218_

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”

51p8btwwmxl-_ac_us218_

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?

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_

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.

51hapmjw7cl-_ac_us218_

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.

51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_

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.

41nnbvwgaal-_ac_us218_