Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Love to Get As Gifts

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 22: Books I Hope Santa Brings

I decided to tweak this one a bit. I will accept these books as gifts from anyone. I’m not limiting it to Santa (*hint* *hint*)

  1. Elijah’s Mermaid by Essie Fox – This is a recent addition to my TBR, after reading about it in another top ten list: Top 10 Books About Mermaids in the Guardian. It sounds just right for me though. A gothic mystery about mermaids? A Victorian set historical novel? Yes please! The writer of the list, Monique Roffey, says that Fox writes like “the  like the lovechild of Sarah Waters and Angela Carter.” Two authors I greatly admire. If I wasn’t sold before, I am now!

2. The Lost Queen by Signe Pike- This is another recent addition but I’ve heard really wonderful things about it. I also seen a lot of comparisons to a lot of popular novels from Outlander to Wolf Hall to Clan of the Cave Bear, to The Mists of Avalon, and back again. I think that sometimes comp titles can be helpful in letting readers know they’re in for a certain kind of experience (sort of a “If you didn’t like x, you probably won’t like y” kind of thing) but often they just set readers expectations in one direction, only to discover that the book goes in a different direction altogether. So I’m trying to take from those comparisons that it will be historical fiction, it’s probably on the longish side, and there will be some connections to fantasy/magic/paranormal. Actually the inclusion of Camelot and The Mists of Avalon in the (many) comp titles, and the fact that the synopsis says they the character is Merlin’s twin sister, so I think it’ll include some Arthurian elements as well.

3. Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati- I enjoyed Donati’s Wilderness series, and I liked the first in her Waverly Place series. called The Gilded Hour, even more (there’s a small link between both series). So naturally when books 2 comes out, I want it! Donati tied up some storylines at the end of The Gilded Hour, but she also left some wide open and a big question in readers minds! I want to see things resolved! Of course, that would probably open up a million new questions!

4. Readings: Seventeen Writers Revisit the Books They Love by Anne Fadiman- I love the idea of this and I’m curious about how and why these writers decided what to reread. I’m totally conflicted about rereadings: there’s a lot I want to reread, because I suspect I’ll read it differently now. But I also don’t want to ruin any memories of books that might not live up to them. Plus can I justify rereading when there are so many books out there I haven’t read? I have no answers to these questions, but I’m curious how these writers answer them. Plus, I always love a good book about books!

5. Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman– I’m sure I’ve mentioned this book on this blog before, but that’s because I really want to read it! I love Practical Magic and Rules of Magic, and I generally like Alice Hoffman as a writer, so why wouldn’t I want the prequel? Hopefully I’ll get it soon so I can stop blogging about it and start reading it!

6. A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire– I’m actually iffy on Maguire’s work. I didn’t care for Wicked, so I never bothered with the sequels. I did enjoy Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Mirror, Mirror and Hiddensee. So I really don’t know what to expect from this! But I want to read it because a) fairy tale retelling b) The Wild Swans is a favorite of mine and c) it’s set in NYC. So it has quite a bit in it’s favor already, as far as I’m concerned.

7. Fallen Angel by Kim Wilkins– This was recommended a while back in a tweet from Australian author Kate Forsyth (can’t find the tweet now). It’s also released under the title Angel of Ruin. However it has not been released in the US. Not to worry though, I’ve got my Aussie friend on the lookout for it! Hopefully when I finally get to read it, it’ll be worth all the effort!

8. The Tiger Catcher by Paullina Simons– About a year ago I won a goodreads giveaway (that I have no memory of entering!) for the sequel to this book. But based on what I’ve read about it, it’s the kind of thing that should be read in order. This is the first book in the trilogy. The second has been sitting on my shelf for a while, waiting for me. I do hope that I actually want to read the second after reading this one!

Top Ten Tuesday: Outside My Comfort Zone

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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September 3: Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone (i.e., a genre you don’t typically read or subject matter you’re not usually drawn to)

I have a lot of respect for all these genres but generally they’re not where my personal taste tends to take me.  But there are exceptions to every rule!

Sciencey Nonfiction

I had some no-so-good science teachers in school that gave me a negative feeling for it for a long time. I’m trying to push myself out of that mindset because I do find some scientific topics interesting, but it’s a process. My knee-jerk reaction is still rather negative. For the most part these books aren’t hard core scientific but they have scientific portions or content.

51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shalin

 

 

 

41hms7wl8ql-_ac_us218_

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

 

 

 

71zpcrwzwel._ac_uy218_The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

 

 

 

 

Romance

I’ve always enjoyed romantic subplots in books, but I think for a while I bought into the whole idea that romance as a genre was somehow less than other genres. I’ve come to see that’s not the case (I posted about it here and here) and I’ve been venturing into it a bit more, but I wouldn’t call it my comfort zone. I’m still figuring out my tastes in this genre.

51ldcwuzjyl._ac_uy218_Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale

 

 

 

51em7j9uqel-_ac_us218_A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

 

 

 

91vhsxkxe7l._ac_uy218_An Extraordinary Union  by Alyssa Cole

 

 

 

 

Poetry

I like poetry a lot in small doses but I’ve never been one to sit for an afternoon and binge it. These are the exceptions to that rule.

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_Crush by Richard Siken

 

 

 

817xb3ojwvl._ac_uy218_Transformations by Anne Sexton

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Nonfiction That Taught Me Something New

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 28: Back to School/Learning Freebie (in honor of school starting back up soon, come up with your own topic that fits the theme of school or learning! Books that take place at school/boarding school/during study abroad, books you read in school, textbooks you liked/didn’t like, non-fiction books you loved or want to read, etc.)

Since I did a list of favorite novels with a school setting last year, I thought I’d do something different this year, so I decided to go with nonfiction that I enjoyed and learned from. In some cases they made me reconsider what I already knew and in others they showed me something new and different:

1.419t0xt8ill-_ac_us218_ Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly– I definitely don’t agree with all of Kelly’s analyses. I think that she sometimes falls victim to confirmation bias. But I do think that her assertion that Austen’s many contemporary fans don’t appreciate the context of her work has some merit. Obviously that’s a very general statement that doesn’t apply to everyone. But Austen did use a lot of references and allusions with which her contemporary audience would have been familiar, and that twenty first century audiences are not.  In some cases this lack of familiarity with things a reader in the early nineteenth century would know, contributes to Austen’s work being misunderstood.

2.51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_ The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shalin- In this book Leonard Shalin looks at the connection between words/images and the masculine/feminine sides of the human brain. The left brain is aligned with thought that is traditionally thought of as “masculine” (analysis, logic), whereas the right brain is aligned with thought that is traditionally ascribed to the “feminine” (intuition, expression). For roughly the past two thousand years we’ve placed greater value on the masculine, left brained thought.  This is the thought used to acquire language and use text based forms of communication. These last two millennia have also seen worldwide violence and patriarchy. Prior to that, there were more matriarchal, image based cultures that had a more peaceful, holistic lifestyle. Does correlation equal causation? I don’t know. The book certainly lays out some compelling connections for the reader to consider.

3. 51-m4zoalgl-_ac_us218_Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang- Author Jung Chang explores twentieth century China through the lens of three generations of women in her family. Her grandmother was a warlord’s concubine. Her mother was once an idealistic young Communist who, along with her husband rose to a prominent position within the party before being denounced by the Cultural Revolution.  Chang herself worked as a “barefoot doctor,” as well as a steel worker and an electrician before leaving China and becoming Director of Chinese Studies at London University. From the perspective of these three very different women we see Chinese history unfold over the course of a century from the end of the warlord’s regime, to the Japanese occupation, to the struggles between the Kuomintang and the Communists, and ultimately the making of modern China.

51bnothhkhl-_ac_us218_4. The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller– This is not a good book to read if you want a biography of the Brontes. However, if you’re interested in the ways that they’ve been presented to world and how that’s affected the reading of their work, this is an interesting book. Miller points out that different generations of readers and different audiences (Victorian, Freudian, feminist,) have ascribed different characteristics to them and their work. The bulk of the analysis focuses on Charlotte which makes sense because she was not only the most prolific of the sisters, she also lived the longest (she died at the ripe, old age of thirty eight) and was the most public. But her presentation of herself and her sisters had its own motivations. I would have liked a bit more about her siblings, even though there is far less information to draw from. Still this is an interesting read for any Bronte fan and gives a lot to look for to anyone planning a reread.

51qwilbijl-_ac_us218_5. Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki- I enjoyed Memoirs of A Geisha when I first read it, but in retrospect I’m glad that I read it at a point in my life when I was less critical and that I read it before reading this. Mineko Iwasaki, one of Japan’s most celebrated and successful geisha, gives her actual memoirs in the book.  She lays out her painstaking training (try wearing a 44 lb kimono on top of six inch wooden sandals!)  learning to sing, dance, and speak an elevated form of the Japanese language.  She also explains her decision to retire at the age of twenty nine, marry, and her surprise at the way that westerners perceive what she did as a geisha. It’s a refreshingly real glimpse into a rare world and a fading art.

51xeychg8vl-_ac_us218_6. The Inner Voice: The Making of A Singer by Renee Fleming– Soprano Renee Fleming has performed roles in six language and originated roles in contemporary operas, and sang some of the greatest female roles in the operatic repertoire. She presents this books as “an autobiography of [her] voice.” She takes us through her education and career, explains how she goes through a score before a performance, and how she prepares to play a role dramatically. We see her suffer from terrible performance anxiety at the peak of her career, and deal with the knowledge that that if something happens to her voice, her entire career goes tumbling down. Reading this book won’t necessarily make you an opera lover. But it’s very hard not to appreciate and respect it after reading about the work and artistic endeavors that go into its creation.

515ow4wtfol-_ac_us218_7. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelly by Charlotte Gordon– This is a fairly new discovery for me, I’m currently about halfway through but it reads like a novel and I recommend it highly. Mary Shelly and Mary Wollstonecraft are frequently footnotes in one another’s biographies. While they were mother and daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft passed away when her daughter was only ten days old. However this book argues that her mother’s influence (via her writings) was hugely instrumental in making Mary Shelly the woman she became and in shaping her masterpiece Frankenstein.  It also looks at just how ahead of their times both women were and how they impacted the work of the men in their lives (while most biographies look at how the men in their lives impacted their work).

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_8. Reading Lolita in Tehran- Azar Nafasi- As an American growing up in the late twentieth and twenty first centuries, I’ve been sort of spoiled by the notion that I can read whatever I want, wherever I want. Yes I always knew this was a privilege that not everyone had but I never considered some of the practicalities involved in reading material that had been legally censored, nor why it has so much impact when people in oppressive regimes do this. Reading about the discussions that this Iranian book club had, and their responses to what they read made me realize on a conscious level that one of the most important things that literature (and art more generally) does is to show us that we’re not alone. That other people have emotional reactions to things, just like we do. Art can be a bridge between people of very different backgrounds and viewpoints. These connections can threaten the very foundations of a society. In that way, reading a novel, and sharing it with others, can be one of the most subversive things a person can do.

41hms7wl8ql-_ac_us218_9. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman– This book is about a real life medical case in which the infant daughter of Hmong refugees from Laos suffered a seizure disorder. Because of cultural and linguistic differences between the family and the US medical establishment, miscommunications led to tragedy. What stuck me when I read this book, was that both “sides” tried their best. Both the family and the doctors had the child’s best interest at heart.  Their differences interfered with communication at a point when timing was crucial and the girl in question needed immediate action and attention. There’s no easy fix in a situation like this, simply because no one was greedy or incompetent or intolerant.  It would be easier to lay the blame at one person’s feet and say that “if this hadn’t happened, things would have been different.” But when there’s no obvious scapegoat it takes close analysis of each step of the response to ensure change. But really that’s the only way that systemic change can happen. Assigning blame to a single party is appealing because it’s easy, but it doesn’t get us anywhere.

51shzhsgmdl-_ac_us218_10. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen– This book addresses the way that American History is taught in American schools. It was written in 1995 originally, but the new edition has a preface in which the author asserts that these problem ultimately led to a Trump presidency. According to Loewen, American history is presented in a Eurocentric way that not only bores students, but also fails to address the complexities inherent in history, such as differing viewpoints. It gives the impression that history is a collection of facts rather than an ongoing process of understanding context. I remember that as a kid I was often presented with “good/bad” models of historical figures. If a historical figure accomplished something good, s/he was presented in the “good” category. Any mistakes s/he made were overlooked. This leads to a very simplistic, and often just incorrect, understanding of events and people. “Good” people often make mistakes. Sometimes “bad” people may accomplish something that has positive outcomes. Sometimes people do the wrong things for the right reasons, and vice versa. We’re shortchanging students by not allow them to see that.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books To Break A Slump

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 21: Books to Pull You Out of a Reading Slump

We’ve all had reading slumps. Those times when you’ve read several disappointments and you’re having trouble losing yourself in something new. Here are my suggestions to help get your reading rhythm back.

41wjujfmkyl-_ac_us218_1. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman– Instead of trying to dive into another novel right away try this excellent book about books. Fadiman’s essays are short and easy to digest. It’s perfect for dipping into in small doses, and as a bonus, she might discuss a book you’ll want to tackle next.

 

 

51wdp-epb5l-_ac_us218_2. Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kauffman– This book about a first-year NYC high school teacher tells its story entirely via letters characters write to one another, memos, and papers found in desk drawers or in the trash. That format makes it a very quick read. You plan to just read one note that one student passed to another, but the next thing you know you’re halfway through the book.

 

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– The plot here has been done many times: ten strangers are invited to an island where they’re killed one by one. But Agatha Christie does it better than anyone. It doesn’t take long before the reader is along for the ride, trying to figure out whodunnit as the cast of possible suspects dwindles. Once that happens it’s hard to let go!

 

51wyqwsukzl-_ac_us218_4. No Angel by Penny Vincenzi– A 700 pager might not seem like the thing to get you out of a reading slump, but this saga of a wealthy British family is the kind of thing that just sweeps you up with it. While you read it, you’re immersed in this soap opera-ish world. There’s not a lot of intellectual depth, but who cares?  It’s a fun way to break a slump!

 

31yhicomrpl-_ac_us218_5. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson– This is 1930’s era chick lit that’s lighter than air. While in some ways I prefer the film because it has more emotional heft, the book is perfect for times when you want something so frothy that you can almost float along as you read.

 

 

51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_6. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– This novel consists of humorous letters sent to the main character by members of her eccentric family and friends over the course of several decades. Each letter is short and funny. It’s hard to put down when you start reading and see that the next letter is called “The Gerbil You Drowned in 1990 Would Like a Word With You”, “Your Intrauterine Device Has Some Thoughts on Your Love Life,” or “Your Uncle Figured a Mass E-mail Was the Best Way to Discuss His Sexuality.” Each one is only a page or two (the whole book is less than 200 pages) so it’s quite possible to read this in one sitting.

51bugqmhyql-_ac_us218_7. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– This is one that just draws you in from page one and you get caught up in the atmosphere and romance and mystery. It opens with a young boy whose father is taking him to a place called The Cemetary of Forgotten Books, from that point the boy grows up and tries to discover who is destroying all the works of a favorite author. The setting of the story is so vivid that when you put it down the real world sort of comes as a surprise!

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_8. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– The main character of this book becomes sort of enthralled by a group of students at his college. Even though the reader has a sense that there’s something “off” about this clique we become engrossed in their concerns in the same way that the narrator does so that by the time things go off the rails, the reader is along for the ride.

 

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_9. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m not usually a poetry reader. I mean there are poems and poets that I like but I’m not one to just dive into a book of poetry for hours. But that’s why it’s perfect for a reading slump! You can dip into it for a short time, read a full poem, and put it down (or continue if you choose!) and repeat as desired. It doesn’t require the commitment of a novel. I chose this one because Siken is one of my favorite contemporary poets, but if you have another favorite go for that!

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_10. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery- Another way to break a slump is to revisit an old childhood favorite, whether it’s Anne or Harry Potter, or something else. There’s something that’s comforting and familiar about revisiting an old love, and as you read you can remind yourself what made you fall in love with books in the first place.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope Santa Brings

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

December 19: Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

Narrowing it down to only ten is the hardest part here! I also tried to go with at least a few books that I really want but might not think to buy for myself. Though obviously since I put them on this list, I did think of it!

51zhmf9kdil-_ac_us218_1. Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis- I’ve been a fan of Samantha Ellis ever since I read her memoir How To Be A Heroine. I’ve always been a big fan of Anne Bronte, who is very much the overlooked Bronte sister. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey deserve a place on the shelf alongside Jane Eyre, Villette, and Wuthering Heights. She was as talented as Charlotte and Emily, but her work hasn’t been adapted to the same extent. It’s not written about as much.  Considering the fact that the Bronte’s are a family about whom a lot has been written, it’s strange that so little has been said about Anne. I look forward to learning more about her and her work.

41oky5u1zsl-_ac_us160_2. Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love by Anne Fadiman (ed)- I’m always intrigued by the idea of rereading things. Part of it is due to my own conflict: there are so many books that I want to revisit, now that I have more experience in life/ a different perspective. But there are also so many books that I haven’t read yet! Which is more worthy of my time? It’s an eternal question. In this book, Anne Fadiman collects essays from seventeen writers about the books that they return to. over and over again. Maybe it will inspire me to reread some old favorites.

41nrqvn9zxl-_ac_us218_3. Hat Box: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim by Stephen Sondheim- Most people know that I am a huge musical theatre geek. Huge. There is no one I have higher respect for than Stephen Sondheim, who has give the American musical so much. He’s the recipient of eight Tony Awards, eight Grammys, an Academy Award for Best Original Song (“Sooner or Later” from Dick Tracy) and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for Sunday in the Park With George) and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. At 87 years old, he is currently working on his next project! This box sets features Sondheim’s two volumes of his collected lyrics; Finishing the Hat and Look I Made A Hat (both titles refer to the lyrics of “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park With George). The lyrics in these books are like really clever poetry. Listening closely to a Sondheim lyric you’ll find internal rhyme, double (and triple) entendres, and complex word play. Not only do these volumes give the full libretto of Sondheim’s musicals, they also include anecdotes, reproductions from his notebooks with corrections and revisions, alternate/cut songs that didn’t make it into the final version of the show, as well as observations, and recollections.

61jbrrzbrel-_ac_us218_4. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss- Theodora Goss is one of the unsung greats of today as far as I’m concerned. She’s a novelist, short story writer, essayist,  poet, and teacher. Her latest is a mash up of female characters from 19th century literature. The orphaned Mary Jekyll is curious about her father’s past. She comes across a clue that points her in the direction of Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend. The hunt for Hyde leads her to his daughter, Diana. Through her search, Mary comes into contact with a number of women, who were all created via scientific experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. Oh and if that wasn’t enough fun, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are also there.

51oi-wfd4bl-_ac_us218_5. Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions and Heretics by Jason Porath-  This is for everyone who is sick of Disney’s princesses!  This book, inspired by the blog of the same name features women for myth to history and back again, who broke the rules, and were a little to fierce to make the cut for animated children’s movies.  It even features illustrations in a contemporary animation style, and turns the pretty pink princess stereotype upside down.

5111djnwwwl-_ac_us218_6. Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood- One of my “discoveries” of 2017 was the wonderful Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (murder is always more palatable when it takes place in a period setting!)  . Set in Australia in the 1920’s, Phryne Fisher leaves high society for life as a private detective. She handles everything from kidnapping to murder with style and flair. The series is based on novels by Kerry Greenwood, none of which I’ve read yet.  This volume contains the first three novels, so it seems like a good start for the series.

41a3p6ukcfl-_ac_us218_7. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King-  This past year I read one of the writing books that had been recommended to me many times; Bird by Bird. For some reason I resisted reading it, but it was very much worth the read. So now I’m thinking it’s time to explore the other writing book that can be described in much the same way. It’s been recommended many times and I’ve resisted reading it. When I think about it though it seems pretty silly. Stephen King has his strengths and weaknesses but it’s hard to deny that he’s one of our most prolific and popular writers. I’m certainly interested in his memoirs of his craft.

41xqczfdy8l-_ac_us218_8. The Blythes Are Quoted by LM Montgomery- This book was intended to by LM Mongomery’s 9th book in her Anne series. It was delivered to her publisher on the day she died and has never been published in its entirety before. It’s been heavily abridged and published as The Road to Yesterday. This is supposedly Montgomery’s most experimental work. It’s divided into two sections; one taking place before WWI and one after. It features 15 short stories that are interspersed with “sketches” featuring Anne and Gilbert discussing poems that Anne wrote with their son, Walter. In this way she fuses prose, poetry, and dialogue.  I’ve always loved the Anne series and have always felt like Rilla of Ingleside was an odd place to leave the family. So It’s nice to know there was intended to be something that comes after.

51kdw4g8bl-_ac_us218_9. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes-  This has been on my TBR for a long time, and I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I figure that having it staring at me on my shelf might help me get to reading it. In the book the author, a Jungian analyst, calls on fairy tales, folklore, and dream symbols to restore women’s instinctive and intuitive abilities. It looks at the Wild Woman archetype of a woman in touch with her instincts via tales from all over the world. I suppose the topic interests me, and I’d like to get around to it at some point.

61anunqkwbl-_ac_us218_10. Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton– Like many, I’m addicted to Humans of New York, a blog that talks to *wait for it* humans in New York. It features pictures that for the most part look like people you’d see on the street and not really give all that much thought to. But alongside the pictures are quotes and stories from the person’s life. It’s wonderful to see how everyone we see, even those we don’t register is a whole story. Some are sweet, some sad,  and some funny.  But it’s a reminder that we’re all stories in progress.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2017

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

December 12: Top Ten Favorite Books of 2017

I’m doing the best I’ve read in 2017 rather than the best that were published this year. I had no intention of just doing books by female writers but that’s how it worked out this year!

517p1odjdbl-_ac_us218_1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery– It took me a while to start loving this book. The main characters initially aren’t all that likable. Renee is a concierge at a wealthy apartment building in Paris. She’s a fifty four year old widow with no formal education but a lifetime of reading under her belt. She conceals her intelligence from the tenants in her building to avoid curiosity. Paloma is a twelve year old girl who lives in the building. She’s highly intelligent but she considers her parents snobs and is convinced that life is meaningless. She plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday unless she can find a good reason not to. In each other, it seems that Renee and Paloma have found an unlikely kindred spirit.  As I said it was slow moving, but I came to care about these characters and invest in their future. I looked forward to the random, quirky events in which they both found a strange beauty.

“Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary–and terrible elegant. ”

51u68hsyiml-_ac_us218_2. Play it As It Lays by Joan Didion I “discovered” Joan Didion last year, but this was the first time I’ve read her fiction. This narrative switches back and forth between the main character’s first person narration and a strangely detached third person narration. Set in Hollywood in the 1970’s, Maria Wyeth is a minor screen actress. Through her eyes, we see a culture of exploitation, built on open secrets. Just as the narration goes back and forth between Maria’s first person narration and that of others around her, the story itself is alternately shaped by Maria’s choices and the choices of others.  The word that comes to mind when describing this book is “lonely”. It’s a lonely book but there’s beauty in that loneliness.

“One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing.”

51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye– My expectations of this book weren’t high (I’ve read some pretty disappointing Jane Eyre fan fiction!) so maybe it was the fact that it was a pleasant surprise that makes this book stand out. Maybe I just loved the gleeful, dark, slightly messed up humor of a homicidal Jane Eyre figure. In most gothic romance (Jane Eyre included) we see what is essentially a Bluebeard narrative. A young girl goes to live with/work for a wealthy man, who may or may now be a murderer. She usually falls in love with him regardless.  Rebecca, Dragonwyck, and Mistress of Mellyn, are other notable examples. Here Lyndsay Faye turns that narrative on it’s head. Yes, our hero, Mr. Thornfield, has secrets, but in this novel, Jane’s past is just as colorful.

“Reader, I murdered him…”

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_4. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara– I always feel the need to put a warning before recommending this book, because I feel like it’s such a hard read. It’s long (about 700 pages) and emotionally draining. When we learn about the main character’s background, the abuse and trauma that he endures may be triggering for some readers. Even though I wasn’t triggered,  I found it almost too horrible to be believed. I certainly didn’t want to believe that such abuse could be real. But I can’t deny that it most likely isn’t as fictional as I’d like to believe.  I could see the wrong person, picking up this book at the wrong point in their life might see it as an author saying that there are things too horrible to ever truly recover from. Maybe that is partially what she’s saying, but I feel like she’s doing something more. She’s depicting love in all its forms. She shows how people who love someone don’t give up on them just because it seems hopeless. She shows the beauty that’s a part of the struggle through life.  And ultimately the lesson that she leaves us with is one of compassion.

“But then again, he would think, what about his life- and about Jude’s life, too- wasn’t it a miracle? He should have stayed in Wyoming, he should have been a ranch hand himself. Jude should have wound up – where? In prison, or in a hospital, or dead, or worse. But they hadn’t. Wasn’t it a miracle that someone who was basically unexceptional could life a life in which he made millions pretending to be other people, that in that life that person would fly from city to city, would spend his days having his every need fulfilled, working in which he was treated like the potentate of a small, corrupt country? Wasn’t it a miracle to be adopted at thirty, to find people who loved you so much that they wanted to call you their own? Wasn’t it a miracle to have survived the unsurvivable?Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? Wasn’t this house, this beauty, this comfort, this life a miracle?”

 

41wjujfmkyl-_ac_us218_5. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman- Anne Fadiman is a creature that most bibliophiles will recognize. She’s the woman who will relish a really long word (or Sesquipedalian, which, as I’ve recently learned, means really long word)  rolling it over her tongue and savoring the taste. She’ll look forward to the opportunity to read aloud. She’ll challenge you to see who can find the most typos on the restaurant menu. These essays describe her lifelong love affair with language and books, from her childhood, building with books rather than blocks, or “marrying libraries” with her husband of five years. She takes us inside her “odd shelf” (“small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection reveals a good deal about its owner”) which is sort of a metaphor for her brain, I suppose.

“Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator), they became chapters in it themselves.”

61kl8q74sml-_ac_us218_6. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff– This was actually the second Lauren Groff book I read this year (the first was Arcadia) but it stands out as a departure from her usual style. While Fates and Furies and Arcadia feature beautiful, poetic prose; this is more plot-based than either of those. It’s part contemporary novel, part ghost story, part historical fiction, and part magical realism. These different elements come together in ways that are occasionally messy, but that’s part of their charm. It’s somewhat less polished than Groff’s other work, and I love it for that reason too.

“Then, when we had done so, we put our hands upon the freezing cold monster, our monster. And this is what we felt: vertigo, an icicle through our strong hearts, our long-lost childhoods. Sunshine in a field and crickets and the sweet tealeaf stink of a new ball mitt and a rock glinting with mica and a chaw of bubblegum wrapping in sweet sweet tendrils down our throats and the warm breeze up our shorts and the low vibrato of lake loons and the sun and the sun and the warm sun and this is what we felt; the sun.”

41z63vm8bwl-_ac_us218_7. Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing And Life by Anne Lamott–  This memoir/writing advice guide has been recommended to me over and over again over the past several years, but something irrational in me was turned off by something about it. I finally pushed past whatever it was, and I’m really glad that it did. Lamott shows how difficult writing can sometimes be, from the discipline of actually doing it, to the fact that writing and anxiety go hand in had, to the understanding that by writing a book you’re essentially sharing yourself with strangers. There’s no way to separate the personal from the professional. But she gives her readers advice  with humor and  honesty.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

51m2nd4g30l-_ac_us218_8. The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks-These short stories defy genre and description. They’re strange, inventive, weird, and uncanny. Though they draw on mythical sources and themes, there’s also something very modern about these stories. It’s hard to discuss some of these stories without spoiling them, but let’s just say that there’s a retelling of “The Wild Swans” a story about a space janitor, and a story about a time traveler desperately trying to stop an artist from creating a painting.

“It just goes to show, people said later. It just goes to show how fairy tales always stop too soon in the telling. Others said it was never a fairy tale at all. Anyone could see that. They were all too lovely, too obviously doomed. But the wisest said, that’s exactly what a fairy tale is. The happily-ever-after is just a false front. It hides the hungry darkness inside.

41xbvxm07hl-_ac_us218_9. Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly– This is a unique look at Austen’s work that many Jane-ites would do well to read. It argues that in the twenty first century we frequently misread Jane Austen. Her work was more socially and politically aware than we realize. A 19th century readership would have been aware of many of the small references she makes to events that were then current, and they would have understood her work very differently from how we understand it now. Helena Kelly analyses Austen’s work, looking at several of the issues that Austen tackles explicitly and and subtextually. For example, Mansfield Park doesn’t just touch on the slave trade. References to cases and literature that a 19th century readership would know,  are pervasive and they make the book far more political than a 21st century audience realizes. I think that at times the author gets so caught up in her ideas that she reaches a little too far, but I also think that she makes some excellent points about reading Austen through the lens of her own time rather than ours.

And once we read like this, we start to see her novels in an entirely new light. Not an undifferentiated procession of witty, ironical stories about romance and drawing rooms, but books in which an authoress reflects back to her readers their world as it really is—complicated, messy, filled with error and injustice. This is a world in which parents and guardians can be stupid and selfish; in which the Church ignores the needs of the faithful; in which landowners and magistrates—the people with local power—are eager to enrich themselves even when that means driving the poorest into criminality. Jane’s novels, in truth, are as revolutionary, at their heart, as anything that Wollstonecraft or Tom Paine wrote. But by and large, they’re so cleverly crafted that unless readers are looking in the right places—reading them in the right way—they simply won’t understand.

61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_110. Night Film by Marisha Pessl– This is a weird book to describe. On one hand you can say that it’s about a reporter investigating the apparent suicide of a celebrated filmmaker’s daughter. On the other hand, you could describe it as an eerie, hypnotic adventure that gets better as the plot grows more convoluted. Throughout the pages we see props: newspaper clippings, website screenshots, a coffee stained transcript, and stolen police reports that are intended to blur the line between fiction and reality a bit more. It also blurs the line between film and literature a bit. The structure and the atmosphere of the book are very film noir. We learn about the victim’s father’s films in vivid detail. As we get into some possible theories regarding the girl’s fate, it starts to feel like the more outlandish possibilities are more likely than the realistic ones.

“The Shadow is what people are hunting throughout the tale. Or else it can dog the hero, refusing to leave him alone. It’s a potent force that bewitches as much as it torments. It can lead to hell or heaven. It’s the hollow forever inside you, never filled. It’s everything in life you can’t touch, hold on to, so ephemeral and painful it makes you gasp. You might even glimpse it for a few seconds before it’s gone. Yet the image will live with you. You’ll never forget it as long as you live. It’s what you’re terrified of and paradoxically what you’re looking for. We are nothing without our shadows. They give our otherwise pale, blinding world definition. They allow us to see what’s right in front of us. Yet they’ll haunt us until we’re dead.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 of 2017 (So Far…)

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 27Best Books You’ve Read In 2017 So Far (break it down however you want — by genre, strictly 2017 releases, whatever!)

So far 2017 has been good to me in terms of books. Hopefully that’ll continue! Here some of the best I’ve read this year (so far).

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff- Lotto and Mathilde married at twenty two. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends. Many people say that honesty and openness are needed for a successful marriage, but in this book, Lotto and Mathilde are kept together by what they don’t share, what they keep from their partner to protect them. We see the story first from Lotto’s perspective. Then it shifts and we see it from Mathilde’s point of view. It’s not the marriage I’d want, but it does work for these two….

    “Please. Marriage is made of lies. Kind ones, mostly. Omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse, you’d crush them to paste. She never lied. Just never said.”

  2.  Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood– Felix Phillips lost his job as the artistic director of a theater company while he was grieving for his lost daughter. He disappears to lick his wounds, and emerges from his self imposed exile to teach literacy in a local prison. He teachers Shakespeare to the inmates, and a prison production of The Tempest gives his excellent opportunity for revenge against those who once wronged him. Atwood re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a contemporary setting. Not only does she prove that Shakespeare’s work is truly universal, but she also shines some light on aspects of the original play that I’ve missed before.

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

  3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye– I think I’ve mentioned this book before. Think Jane Eyre meets Dexter. Jane Steele, much like her counterpart, is “poor, obscure, plain and little.” She’s not heartless but sometimes she has to do some bad things. It’s usually for a good reason. When she falls for her employer, Mr. Thornfield, she gets in over her head trying to reconcile her past and future. 

    Reader, I murdered him….”

  4. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara – I put this on my TBR list for this summer and I got to it sooner than I thought I would! It’s not an easy book. It asks a lot of readers. But it gives a lot too, in terms of beautiful language (some sentences I’d just read over to experience them again) and characters you care about in spite of their faults. It’s about Jude St. Francis, who survives a childhood of horrific abuse to find success as an adult. At least outwardly. He has adoptive parents, a thriving career, great friends, but he can’t accept that he’s deserving of any of it. He waits for the day that everyone else realizes it too.

    “He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.” 

  5. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m not usually a poetry reader, but someone recommended Siken a few months ago, and now I’m obsessed. It’s about love and anxiety and violence and how those three themes intersect. It shows us the ugly side of love and the beautiful side of obsession. It explores a “crush” in all its meanings; a romantic infatuation, a force that destroys or deforms,  and to subdue completely.

    “Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us./ These, our bodies, possessed by light./ Tell me we’ll never get used to it. “

  6. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman– This is a collection of essays about Fadiman’s lifelong love affair with books and language.  As a child she built castles out of books rather than blocks. As an adult, she only truly considered herself married when she and her husband merged libraries (never mind that she and her husband had, at that point, been married five years and had a child together; merging libraries means intimacy…commitment!) In these essays, Fadiman reflects on the appeals of mail order catalogs, the urge to proofread everything and report typos, and why second hand books are nicer than new ones.

    “[T]here is a certain kind of child who awakens from a book as from an abyssal sleep, swimming heavily up through layers of consciousness toward a reality that seems less real than the dream-state that has been left behind. I was such a child.” 

  7. The White Album by Joan Didion– In this book Joan Didion reflects in the culture and counterculture of America in the 1960’s and 70’s. She explores her subjects on a number of levels, revealing not just the intelligence and skepticism that she’s known for, but also her dry, self deprecating sense of humor. Her subjects range from the Hoover Dam, to the Manson family, to migraines, to water in the desert, and biker exploitation films.

    “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” 

  8. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue–  I’m a long time fan of Ms. Donoghue, but initially I had trouble getting into this book. It starts off rather slow, and has a protagonist who we don’t like right away. But I’m glad I stuck with it. It has a great atmosphere and we build toward caring about the characters. In the late 19th century, Libby is a nurse, trained by Florence Nightingale. She’s asked to come to Ireland to care for, and observe 11 year old Anna, who hasn’t eaten in four months and has become a local sensation and even tourist attraction. She plans on exposing Anna as a hoax as soon as she figures out how Anna’s doing it, but as she sends more time with Anna and her family, Libby finds herself confronting local legends, lore, and religious belief.  It draws on various cases of “Fasting Girls” that turned up throughout Europe from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

    “A fast didn’t go fast; it was the slowest thing there was. Fast meant a door shut fast, firmly. A fastness, a fortress. To fast was to hold fast to emptiness, to say no and no and no again.” 

  9. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente– I would recommend this to readers who are new to Valente. Some of Valente’s work for older readers is harder to embrace because the emphasis is more on feeling that plot. The prose is beautiful but sometimes hard to follow. Though this book is intended for middle grade readers, I think that readers of all ages can find something to enjoy here. It’s about a girl named September, who is brought to Fairyland by the Green Wind. There she makes several friends, and must find a talisman for an evil queen. It recalls works ranging from Alice in Wonderland to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to The Wizard of Oz.

    “Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.” 

  10. The  Brontesaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte (and Branwell) by John Sutherland and John Crace– I’m a major Bronte fan, as I’ve said before. I’ve read several biographies of the Brontes, but this was more of an encyclopedia of trivia. Did you ever want to know the never discussed, implied origins of Mr. Rochester’s wealth? Curious as to what “Wuthering” actually means? It includes an “abbreviated Jane Eyre” as well, and it’s got a nice sense of humor and wit.

    “There is no fate worse for fiction than to come and go into Shakespeare’s ‘wallet of oblivion’. Everything from ‘Jane Hair’ salons to Jane Eyrotica confirms that will never happen to the Brontës’ fiction. Their novels will last as long as there is money to be made from the novels, which are wholly uncontaminated. Long live ‘tat’: it bears witness to long life.”