Top Ten Tuesday: Before I Was Born

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 2: Books Written Before I Was Born (These can be books you’ve read or want to read!) (submitted by Davida Chazan @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog)

Well, they didn’t have books before I was born, they carved them onto stone tablets… Just kidding, I’m not quite that old! These are the books on my TBR that were written and published before I was born:

1. Armadale by Wilkie Collins (1864-66)- Collins wrote mystery/thrillers way back in the 19th century. I loved his Woman in White, and I really enjoyed No Name and The Moonstone, so I look forward to giving this one a try. Together these are considered Collins’ four great works

2. The King’s General by Daphne DuMaurier (1946) Over the years I’ve been slowly reading all of DuMaurier’s life’s work. This one is next on my list (unless I unexpectedly come across something else!). It’s set during the English Civil War, which I don’t really know much about.

3. Maggie-Now by Betty Smith (1950) Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an all time favorite of mine. I also loved Joy in the Morning. I haven’t heard much about this one, but I’m hoping it’ll be one of those unknown classics.

4. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf (1925-1932) This series of essays was originally published in two volumes (one in 1925, the other in 1932) but I’m counting it as one because it’s my list and I can do what I want! I think I like Woolf best as an essayist.

5. The Lark by E Nesbit (1922) I love E Nesbit’s children’s novels like The Railway Children and Five Children and It, and I’m really looking forward to diving into some of her work for adult readers.

6. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann (1936)- I loved Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz, and this sequel revisits two primary characters from that book, ten years later. From reviews, it seems they’re both older but not all that much wiser. But would it be any fun to read if they were?

7. Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (1940)- A friend of mine recommended this recently and it sounded delightful.

8. The Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967) I’ve been fascinated by the 1975 film adaptation of this novel for years, but I’ve never read the source material! Haven’t seen the Amazon prime remake either. I must get to both of them soon!

9. Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson (1934) The first of four Miss Buncle novels this one has been on my TBR for a long time. I never seem to get to it, in spite of hearing good things about it.

10. The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart– For a long time, I’d thought that I’d read all of Stewart’s work. Then I discovered a whole list of novels that I hadn’t read! I’m rationing myself and working my way through slowly to savor them! This is next on the list.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 29: Favorite Book Quotes (these could be quotes from books you love, or bookish quotes in general)

  1. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.” —  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

For a character who is “no bird” Jane is often associated with them in this novel. Even her name sounds like “air”. But perhaps it is a free bird, as opposed the the caged bird she calls to mind here, that one associates with Jane the most. No matter what happens she is able able to take off when she chooses. She may seek out greener pastures, or go back to battle old ghosts. I think it takes a lot of nerve for her to assert this actually. At this point in the book, nothing in her life has told her she has value. She’s “poor, obscure, plain, and little,” but she feels that she has intrinsic worth in spite of that. That’s what gives her the guts to assert herself, to take off when she feels it’s necessary, and to refuse to be ensnared.

2. “From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.” —  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was about 12 and I definitely identified very strongly with Francie. I still do, even though I’m older now. This quote is a perfect example of why. I honestly do feel like books are my friends. Some people might see that as sad, but I see it as having reliable friends who never talk back and never leave me or let me down. (I do also have some actual, human friends too!)

3. “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” — Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

I’ve always had a tendency to be hard on myself. Even when I was a child, I would take myself to task for my mistakes. I first read this book when I was about nine, and right away something clicked when I read that! It was so freeing to see things that way! Even now, if I have a bad day, I try to remember that there’s always tomorrow, and there are no mistakes in it yet! It doesn’t always help, but I do try to remember it.

4. “How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.” — Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a more recent read, and a big theme in this book is the perceptions of others vs. self perception. That really resonated with me, even independent of the rest of the book. I think that we constantly create different versions of ourselves with different people. To some extent that’s natural: we behave differently with out friends from adulthood for example, than we do with people who have know us since we were children. But it can be cultivated too. Sometimes we have a sense of how someone else sees us, and we can try to live up to it. How a stranger sees you for the first time is powerful, because it can give us the feeling of a blank slate. We can sort of create ourselves anew.

5. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

This is from a conversation between Gandolf and Frodo, after Gandolf tells Frodo about the Ring. Frodo wishes that this hadn’t happened during his lifetime, and this is Gandolf’s response. They’re words that I’ve thought of a lot through the craziness of 2020. Things happen that we don’t control. But we control our response.

6. “There are few people whom I really love and still fewer of whom I think well.”Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This quote stands out to me because of the distinction made between loving someone and thinking well of them. We often think of loving people as thinking of them in the highest regard. But really, we can love people and not think well of them at all. We can love people and not like them. So the distinction makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

7. “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)” – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Just very true words. People can turn anything into a weapon. They can make things that are supposed to help up, things that are supposed to make us better, destructive. Is that true of everyone? No, of course not. A whisky bottle in the hands on one man may be meaningless. It might simply mean that he likes the taste of whisky and enjoys a glass of it and the end of a long day. But in the hands of another man, it could mean that he’s about to become a violent drunk. Similarly, the Bible is a book that is supposed to teach people to be kind to one another, to help each other. And one person may use it that way. But another may use it as a way to oppress others and even as a justification for it.

8. “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.” – The White Album by Joan Didion

I just think that this is so true. When something terrible happens, we immediately try to understand it. We try to put it into some kind of workable context. I once lost someone close to me, and I almost immediately tried to put that loss in narrative terms. I thought about how this person’s narrative arc was complete, even though he was young. I was aware that I was imposing a narrative on something that didn’t necessarily have one, but it did help a bit to think of it that way. Stories help us get through life, by escaping it, and sometimes by giving us tolerable ways to understand it.

9. “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”The Twits by Roald Dahl

Once again a children’s book proves that it can articulate something more simply and memorably than something intended for adults. I think that this was something that I tried to convey when I wrote Beautiful. Needless to say, I definitely think it’s true. And the reverse is too. Someone might be totally gorgeous, but if they act like a jerk, sooner or later, they won’t look so appealing.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Literary Married Couples

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 12: Favorite Couples In Books

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Since so many romances roll the credits when the central couple gets married, I decided to do a favorite married couples list. These characters keep the romance (and/or major drama!) going strong long after the wedding.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_1. Anne and Gilbert in The “Anne” series by LM Montgomery- These were sort of a  given for me.  They’ve been my idea of a great fictional couple since I was a kid. They grow up together, they grow apart and come back together again. They give each other space to thrive and they’re always there for each other if things go wrong. They tied the knot in Anne’s House of Dreams, book 5 (out of an 8 book series). Even though the last two books in the series focus more on their children, there’s plenty of Anne and Gilbert drama post marriage in book 6, Anne of Ingleside.

517zcqxmvll-_ac_us218_2. Valency and Barney in The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery- This stand alone novel features Valency, a spinster who gets some bad news from the doctor. In an attempt to seize the day, she asks Barney to marry her. It’ll make her happy and, and it’ll only last for about a year… But Barney finds happiness with Valency and soon the terms of their marriage aren’t acceptable to him. He wants more time… But there are indications even before the wedding that there might be something special between these two. I missed them on first read, but I picked up on a few after a recent reread.

51ozv7qacul-_sx260_3. Claire and Jamie in the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon- These two really make each other better. Jamie’s a smart fellow and being with a woman from the future opens his mind to new ways of thinking. Claire is challenged by sexist thinking whether she’s in the 20th century or the 18th but being with someone who believes in her absolutely encourages her to challenge those systems right back. They get married about halfway through the first book and the series is currently 8 books and they’re still going strong.

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_4. Scarlet and Rhett in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- Scarlet may have her eyes elsewhere for most of the book, but if she’d been married to Ashley Wilkes she’d have walked all over him to the point where he’d have been a slip of paper on the floor in about a week. She and Rhett get married around midway through the book. Rhett is someone who can match her wit for wit,  manipulation for manipulation. Scarlet is used to having the upper hand but Rhett challenges her for it and sometimes claims it for himself. For other partners, they’d be toxic. But for each other they’re pretty perfect, which is why I maintain that they’ll eventually work it out.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_5. Maxim DeWinter and his second wife in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- I don’t think it’s a good sign when we don’t know the second wife’s first name, but the first wife is the title of the book! But the unnamed narrator this novel feels tormented by her husband’s beautiful, beloved late wife.  I think that’s probably a common experience to some extent (albeit with less Gothic twists than this novel!). Marrying a widow or widower means accepting their previous spouse and whatever feelings may linger.

51pclzvhwel-_ac_us218_6. Henry and Claire in The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger– These two definitely have a weird relationship thanks to Henry’s Chrono-Displacement Disorder. It means that Henry (who unintentionally time travels) occasionally meets his wife as a kid, and sometimes runs into her after she’s widowed… But they make it work! It’s not always what I’d call healthy but it’s certainly a marriage that faces some unique challenges.

 

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_7. Ruth and Quin in The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Ruth is separated from her family when they’re immigrating to England after Hitler invades Austria. Now the Austrian-Jewish Berger family is safe in London except for Ruth. Family friend Quinton Sommerville is a British citizen and he offers to help: he and Ruth will get married. They can get into England together and once there, they can get the marriage annulled. But the best laid plans often go awry… An annulment turns out to be more complicated than expected and when Quin and Ruth start to fall in love, things get even more unpredictable.

51mssp4enl._ac_ul436_ 8. Henry and Margaret in Howard’s End by EM Forester– In a lot of ways these two are an odd couple. Henry is a wealthy industrialist with three children from a previous marriage. Margaret is a spinster with progressive politics and intellectual passions. But they legitimately like one another. The marriage faces challenges from day one, ranging from Margaret’s good hearted but flighty sister, to Henry’s checkered past and his  hostile children. But the biggest challenges come from their different ways of seeing and responding to the world.

71a-uqdbfwl._ac_ul436_9. Sir Percy Blackney and Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy– It’s the French Revolution and aristocrats are falling prey to Madame Guillotine. Their only hope is The Scarlet Pimpernel who rescues them from their fate with the aid of daring disguises. Lady Marguerite Blackney is married to Sir Percy, a man who seemed to love her during their courtship only to reveal himself to be a rather dim witted fop.  When her beloved brother is arrested and facing execution, she’s told that she might save him if she helps the French Republic find the Scarlet Pimpernel. Most readers will be able to guess the Scarlet Pimpernel’s true identity based on that synopsis, but it’s still a lot of fun.

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_10. Carl and Annie in Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– This book looks and Carl and Annie’s first year of marriage. They got married against the wishes of their parents in 1927 and left their native Brooklyn so that Carl could attend law school in the Midwest. They face challenges ranging from loneliness to poverty.  But they push through with loyalty and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional NYC

That Artsy Reader Girl lists this week’s Top Ten Tuesday as a freebie, so I decided to look at the various ways that one of my favorite places has been depicted in fiction. I decided to specify fiction because NYC also has a vivid nonfictional presence that I might want to look at in a different post. I think that the incredible diversity that NYC has in terms of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, education and more makes it a great place to set a story.

61ygpmell4l-_ac_us218_1. Eloise by Kay Thompson– Even though this is technically “A Book For Precocious Grown-Ups” I loved Eloise as a kid. She lived in the Plaza with her dog, her turtle (Skipperdee, which I always thought was a great name for a turtle) and her nanny and she knew absolutely everything about everyone. I imagine that she’d be an annoying kid to have around if she were real: she bothers people on the elevators and in the hotel lobby, she crashes weddings, she runs up and down the halls, and considers pouring water down the mail chute. But as a kid, I found her hilarious and even today it’s hard not to be charmed by her antics.

51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith– Before Williamsburg was a haven for hipsters, it was an immigrant community. There’s a sense of optimism amidst hardship in this book that begins with the very image of a tree pushing through concrete to grow. It is the optimism of immigrants who left their native countries in the hopes of a better life and it’s the optimism that Francie observes watching moments in the lives of various Brooklynites from her fire escape.

51371fbdool-_ac_us218_3. Forever by Pete Hamill– Cormac O’Conner arrives in New York as an immigrant in 1740. Thanks to a shipboard incident Cormac is blessed (or cursed) with eternal life, as long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan. Through Cormac’s eyes, we see New York grow from a small settlement to a thriving metropolis over the course of 250 years. He gets involved in the issues of every age. He’s not a passive observer of the city, but rather an active participant, who knows each ally, each street corner, each subway tunnel.

51kwpr263l-_ac_us218_4. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer– Several teenagers meet at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s. They’re all creative and enthusiastic. But the kind of creativity that is celebrated at 15 isn’t always something that can sustain you into adulthood.  Jules gives up her dreams of an acting career in favor of something more practical. Her friend, Jonah, gives up the guitar and becomes an engineer. Ethan and Ash, on the other hand, see their artistic dreams come true beyond anything they could have imagined. This is a character study of these friends over the course of several decades. But NYC is very much a character here as well, and we see it change over the years, alongside these characters.

51kam6gmnql-_ac_us218_5. The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe– Five women work for an NYC publishing company in the 1950’s. There’s Caroline, who dreams of leaving the typing pool and being an editor. Ivy is a Colorado transplant whose naivete may be her undoing. Gregg is an aspiring actress who gets involved in a potentially dangerous affair with a Broadway producer. Barbara is a divorcee with a two-year-old daughter, who isn’t sure if she’ll ever make it out of her mother’s apartment,  and Mary Agnes, who has spent the past two years planning her wedding. This novel follows all of them through promotions, setbacks, break-ups, and breakdowns.

51sb1fc4xl-_ac_us218_6. Extremely Loud and Terribly Close by Jonathan Safon Foer– Oskar Schell is a nine-year-old New Yorker on an urgent quest that takes him through the city. On 9/11, Oskar’s father died in the World Trade Center. Oskar finds a key that he believes was “sent” by his father, and ventures out into a city, still reeling with grief and shock, to find the lock that it fits, or the person who owns the key. His mission takes him all over the city, where he befriends a wide array of inhabitants. While the premise of the book is definitely sad, it’s not without humor. And like the city that he calls home, Oskar is a survivor.

61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_17. Night Film by Marisha Pessl–  Scott McGrath is a reporter who is interested in the reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova. Cordova is known for making horror/thriller/dark films. When Cordova’s daughter, Ashley commits suicide downtown, Scott is convinced that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. He begins to investigate. It’s hard for the reader to identify the point where Scott falls down the rabbit hole, but the NYC where he investigates is a sort of nightmare version of the real thing.  Things that should be familiar to him take on strange, threatening shades and Scott begins to doubt everything that he once believed.

31rsdvpxz0l-_ac_us218_8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton– This novel is set in the 1870’s when the city was in a state of transition; farmland would be next to beautiful mansions. It involves an engaged, upper-class couple and the arrival of a woman with a scandalous past, who may threaten their plans. I chose this one over some other Wharton novels because it seems to ooze its setting (in a good way!)

 

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_9. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara– Four friends graduate college and move to the city to pursue their dreams.  For some of them, the city represents the opportunity to fulfill their ambitions. Willem is an aspiring actor, JB is an artist,  and Malcolm is an architect. But for Jude, it’s a place where he might finally be able to escape his past. While it’s easy to be anonymous in such a big and busy city, this book celebrates friendship and devotion. In this book, NYC seems to be an almost friendly place, because its where these characters find that kind of friendship (and because most of the other places in the book are decidedly unfriendly).

51znbwc8r-l-_ac_us218_10. The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati– Anna Savard and her cousin, Sophie, are both graduates of Women’s Medical School. They live in NYC in 1883, and treat some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. When they cross paths with Anthony Comstock, an anti-vice crusader who considers himself the enemy of anything indecent (like birth control), everything that they’ve worked for is put at risk. At the same time, they must reunite a family, catch a killer, and find the courage to break out of the places they feel safest.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters With Whom I’ve Identified

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

April 3: Characters I liked That Were In Non-Favorite/Disliked Books

I wasn’t really feeling this topic, because usually if I don’t like a book I don’t like/relate to/identify with the characters.  So I just decided to look at characters with whom I’ve identified over the course of my life. I think that my ability to identify with the characters that I read about is one reason I fell in love with reading in the first place. These are some characters that I’ve seen a bit of myself in:

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_1. Anne Shirley from LM Montgomery’s Anne series- I’ve posted about my love for Anne before. She was imaginative, creative, she spoke her mind and tried to make the best of bad situations. Yes, she sometimes made mistakes and accidentally dyed her hair green, or got her friends drunk, but who hasn’t?

 

 

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2. Emily Starr from LM Montgomery’s Emily series- I relate to Emily in a different way from Anne. In some ways, I think I have more in common with her as I grow up. She’s a writer. Like Anne, she tries to look on the bright side, but she needs the support of fiction to help her. In that way, I’m similar.

 

 

51srrilel-_ac_us218_3. Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women– I think most readers of Little Women identify strongly with Jo. I do identify with the other March girls in different ways at different points, but Jo was the one with whom I identified on the most consistent basis. Even when she made decisions that weren’t popular with other readers (like turning down Laurie) I always understood where she was coming from and why.

 

51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_4. Francie Nolan from Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn– I think I was about thirteen when I first “met” Francie Nolan. She and I had a lot in common. Our names were practically the same. For Francie “the world was hers for the reading” and I could relate to that sentiment. Francie was sensitive and creative in a world that often seemed harsh and brutal. In retrospect, my life was far less harsh than hers was, but I related regardless.

 

51k3i-j1fl-_ac_us218_5. Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre– Unlike Jane, I’m not “poor, obscure, plain and little.” Yes, a few of those words could apply to me at different points in my life, but it’s not generally how I see myself. In spite of her words, I don’t think that’s how Jane sees herself either. Regardless of the value (or lack thereof) on which society places her, Jane is always secure in her own self-worth. That’s always been a quality to which I aspire.

 

51igzsbi-ul-_ac_us218_6. Matilda Wormwood from Roald Dahl’s Matilda– Matilda was always a sort of superhero to me. She was lonely, unappreciated, and frightened, and I’ve certainly felt that way at times. But she was also a fighter with a keen sense of justice, a genius IQ and the ability to defy the laws of physics using only her mind. How can you not love a girl like that!?

 

51egwhdscl-_ac_us218_7. Cassandra Mortmain from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle– Cassandra is one of those characters that I carry with me as I read other things. I’ll see another character’s actions and think “Cassandra wouldn’t have made that mistake,” or “Cassandra would do that better.” That’s not to say Cassandra had everything in her life together. Far from it, she was just as confused as anyone else much of the time, but her ability to record everything in her journal gave her a chance to give thought to those moments that most people let pass and forget about.

61wniu1hbzl-_ac_us218_8. Ramona Quimby from Beverley Cleary’s Ramona series- Ramona spoke to the part of me that I often wished I could let free. She wasn’t afraid to be annoying occasionally because she understood that sometimes it’s the only way that you can be heard. She wasn’t afraid to get messy if it looked like fun. I’ve always been a “good girl,” that’s just who I am naturally, but Ramona let my inner rebel run free.

 

61yilvqhjhl-_ac_us218_9.  Sara Crewe from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett- Like me, Sara was addicted to stories. Thankfully I never suffered anything as traumatic as Sara did when I was a child, but I think that much like her, I’ve used imagination and stories as a way of coping with bad times. I also hope that I have some qualities that she shows in this book: resilience, generosity, kindness…

 

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_10. Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding- This is one character who I hope that I’m not too much like. She’s too ridiculous for me to want that! But she also represents the parts of me that are just trying to keep all the different areas of life together. She’s the part that knows that some days just call for chocolate and that sometimes you need to sing into your hairbrush, loudly and off-key.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Lesser Known Romances

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday;

February 13: Love Freebie (Romances, swoons, OTPs, kisses, sexy scenes, etc.)

I feel like a lot of my favorite romances are pretty well known.  I love Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Jane and Mr. Rochester (why do 19th-century male characters never go by their first names?) as much as the next girl.  But this week, I decided to share a few favorites that might not turn up on everyone else’s list.

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_1. The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Eva Ibbotson was primarily known for her children’s books. However, she wrote five romances intended for older readers (the others A Company of Swans, The Secret Countess, A Song For Summer, and Magic Flutes are also worth reading). They’ve since been re-released for a YA audience. They’re flawed in that they depict relationships with gender roles that are somewhat old-fashioned. But they’re usually sweet enough and fun enough so that it doesn’t bother me too much. I have a fondness for this one. It’s about a Jewish family in Austria. They get out of the country when Hitler invades and make it to England. But they’re separated from their twenty-year-old daughter, Ruth who wasn’t able to get the proper paperwork. Quinton Somerville, a friend of the family, offers to help Ruth. He’s got the papers to get to England, and she can come with him, as his wife. Once they’re safely in England they can get the marriage annulled. Ruth takes him up on his offer, but neither of them counts on falling in love…

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_2. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– I forgot why I picked up this book in the first place. Novels about cranky old men aren’t automatic reads for me. But something attracted me to this book and I’m glad it did! Major Ernest Pettigrew is a retired Englishman who is the embodiment of duty, pride, and traditional values. Major Pettigrew is a widower who is trying to keep his son from selling off the family heirlooms when he finds an unexpected ally in his neighbor, Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Their cross-cultural romance shocks everyone, themselves most of all. But it also reminds us that while people may seem like opposites, they can still find strong common ground; enough to build the foundation of a relationship. And it proves that falling in love at 70 is just as sweet as it is at 17.

51guog1xvl-_ac_us160_3. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee– I can’t remember how I first came across this book. But its a provocative futuristic sci-fi love story. Jane is living a life of luxury on an Earth that’s barely recognizable to the reader. But she’s not happy. Robots have replaced humans as laborers but when a new line comes out they’re also used as performing artists and the wealthy use them as sexual partners. When Jane meets Silver, a robot minstrel, his song convinces her that there’s something more to him than just metal and programming. Something almost human. She gives up everything and she and Silver run away together. As their relationship grows, Silver becomes more and more human. Is that just a clever illusion created by his programming? Is Jane needy and mentally unstable? Or has she seen in Silver something that no one else can?  If Silver is truly capable of loving Jane, he’s in terrible danger, because he’s more than anyone expected. If he has all of the advantages of a robot but can truly feel and love like a human, then actual humans can’t complete.

51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_4. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– I feel like this book has been getting more attention lately which I’m glad about. But it’s still largely unknown, so I feel like it can go on this list. Valancy is a twenty-nine-year-old “spinster” who lives under the overbearing thumb of her mother and her aunt. When she gets devastating news from the doctor, Valancy is motivated to do some living while she still has the chance! She becomes friends with Barney, a handsome free spirit whom her family does not approve of! She confides to Barney that she doesn’t have long to live, and proposes marriage. After all, he won’t have to live with her for long, and it’ll make her happy before she dies. After they marry, Barney and Valancy are happier than they’d ever dreamed. But Valancy’s fate hangs over their heads. Colleen McCollough wrote a novel in 1987 called The Ladies of Missalonghi, with a very similar plot set in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The similarities prompted accusations of plagiarism. Having read both, I think they’re just two novels that have similar plotlines.  I prefer The Blue Castle though.

51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_5. Precious Bane by Mary Webb– This is a fairly new discovery for me. Prue Sarn’s “precious bane” is her cleft pallet. It sets her apart from the other girls in her Shropshire community for better and for worse. It isolates her from her peers, but that isolation is also the source of inner strength. Prue’s brother, Gideon, is determined to lift the family out of poverty. He devotes everything he has to make money, which is the very thing that may ultimately destroy him. In a way money is his “precious bane”. It promises a better life but ultimately destroys life and love. Meanwhile, Prue has fallen in love with Kester Woodseaves, a weaver with a gentle spirit. Like Prue, he’s an outsider, due to his gentle nature rather than anything external. Will his good heart allow him to see the beauty in Prue?

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_6. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– A lot of readers compare this book to the (brilliant) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though it was actually a fictionalized account of the first year of the author’s own marriage. Nonetheless, the heroine, Annie Brown, has a lot in common with Francie, the heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Annie and Carl get married in the 1920’s just before Carl starts law school in the midwest. Annie leaves her Brooklyn home to go with him. Their families oppose the marriage, but they’re young, in love, a bit naive, and optimistic. They face challenges from poverty to more personal conflicts. This isn’t really a plot-driven book. It’s far more character driven. It’s hard not to root for Carl and Annie as they begin to build a foundation for their lives together.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer– I first encountered this novella after seeing the exquisite musical that was inspired by it. It’s a beautiful book as well. Margaret Johnson is an unhappily married, wealthy, Southern woman traveling in Florence with her daughter, Clara in the 1950s. When Clara falls in love with Fabrizio, a young Italian (and he with her), Margaret finds herself torn between two equally strong impulses: to protect her daughter and spare her the pain of lost love or to hope that Clara might be luckier in love than Margaret was. The story is about the courage that it takes to fall in love and the bravery in hoping (in the face of experience) that it might last forever.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_8. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This is probably an odd choice. It’s another book that I discovered thanks to my obsession with musical theater. Sondheim’s musical of the same name won a Tony in 1994 but is still one of his less popular works, though it’s one of my favorites. The story is about Giorgio, a handsome, young, Italian soldier. He is having an affair with the lovely (but married) Clara in Milan when he is transferred to a remote base in Parma. There he is invited to dine at his commander’s residence, and he meets the commander’s cousin, Fosca. Fosca is terminally ill, highly strung, and unattractive. She is also madly in love with Giorgio. Though he tries to avoid her at first, Giorgio eventually realizes that Fosca is offering him something that Clara cannot: a pure, true, love that requires his total surrender, yet gives him everything that she has in return.

51x5chc9f7l-_ac_us218_9. Katherine by Anya Seton– Though this book is a novel, it is based on a real-life love story. During the fourteenth century, John of Gaunt, son of a king, fell in love with the already married Katherine Swynford. Even after Katherine is widowed, she and John are prevented from marrying due to politics. However, their affair survives decades of struggle, war, politics, adultery, murder, and danger. I can see where some contemporary readers might see John and Katherine’s romance as one-sided or not very romantic. However I think that is holding a couple in the middle ages to modern expectations. In a time and a place where royal used and discarded mistresses on a regular basis, John maintained his love for Katherine over the course a lifetime, even when casting her aside would have been more politically expedient. He regarded Katherine as his wife and his partner. The descendants of John and Katherine’s children, the Beauforts, include much of the British royal family. For fans of medieval literature this book has appearances from Geoffrey Chaucer (who was Katherine’s brother in law), and includes the writings of Julian of Norwich who also appears as a character in the book.

51lsl4lfqql-_ac_us218_10. Remembrance by Jude Deveraux– Hayden Lane is a bestselling romance author with a problem: she’s fallen in love with the hero she wrote in one of her books.  When a psychic tells her that her obsession may be due to something that happened in a past life, Helen decides to see a hypnotist, who transports her to Edwardian England where she encounters a previous incarnation. But she must go back even further, to the Elizabethan era, before she learns how her earliest incarnation, Callie, was in love with a man named Talis, and how they unintentionally betrayed each other and cursed their future selves. In order to set things right, Hayden will have to figure out a way to break the curse and change history. Some elements of the plot are a bit farfetched (even if you believe in reincarnation, the curses can be hard to buy into!) but it kept me reading. Unlike many romance novels, this doesn’t have a traditional “happily ever after”, though the ending is decidedly hopeful.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I’m Thankful For

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

November 21: Top Ten Books I’m Thankful For (Happy Thanksgiving week in the USA!)

I’m thankful for books period! I can’t imagine my life without them. I can’t imagine myself without them. But if I had to narrow it down to ten, these would definitely be on my list:

41qaj1ebj3l-_ac_us218_1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion- A little less than two years ago I lost a loved one. I found that a lot of the books out there about grief ultimately ended with platitudes, with cliches and saccharine reassurances. But Didion’s memoir of her husband’s death (while their daughter was in a coma fighting for her life!) felt honest and real to me in a way that other books didn’t. It confronts the absurdity that we feel in the face of such a loss; the sense that things seem normal but they’re not supposed to be.  Then we go into the the grief- the violent waves of feeling, and mourning, is what happens in the meantime, the general sadness as we try to put ourselves back together again.

 Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.                                                        The question of self-pity.
Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file (“Notes on change.doc”) reads “May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.,” but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact.
For a long time I wrote nothing else.
Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant.

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_2. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi-  This really showed me how subversive and liberating the act of reading can be. It made me more thankful for my ability to read, and to do so without restriction.  The author, Nafisi, was a professor of Literature at the University of Tehran.  In 1995 she resigned her position because of increasingly repressive policies that grew even worse as time went on. But for two years, she had seven of her best female students come to her house every week, to read and discuss forbidden Western literature. This forum allowed the women to speak their minds about the political, social, cultural, and religious implications of living under strict Islamist rule. This gives the reader and understanding of revolutionary Iran. But what this book club really did was give women a chance to connect to a world they might never know otherwise. It allowed them confront different ways of thinking and accept them, reject them or modify them. In other words, it’s about how art helped these women to survive, to connect and to understand themselves in an extreme situation.

There, in that living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom,”

51swo9un1-l-_ac_us218_3. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery– I love Anne dearly. I would never want to give her up. But something about Emily spoke to the creative in me at a very young age. It’s that connection that I’m specifically thankful for. Unlike Anne, who was an orphan since she was a baby, Emily, lost her beloved father as a tween and was sent to live with relatives. That gives Emily a sort of melancholy right off. She knows what she’s lost.  Writing for her is a form of survival. It’s a way of communicating with her father. Initially, that’s a literal communication; she writes him letters. But it becomes more abstract as she gets older. I can relate to Emily’s desire to express certain ideas and feelings that don’t readily lend themselves to words.

“It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside– but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond– only a glimpse– and heard a note of unearthly music.”

51bkx0sulel-_ac_us218_4. Ramona the Pest by Beverley Cleary- Ramona taught me so much as a kid. I saw so much of myself in her. I tried to do the right thing, to understand what people wanted of me, but sometimes I fell short. It was nice to know that the same could be said of this character. Not only does Cleary have obvious sympathy for the misunderstandings that cause Ramona to be called a pest, but she also sees it as a tool for empowering a character who doesn’t have a lot of other resources. I liked the idea that what other people found annoying could be my way of getting what I wanted! This is definitely one of the books that first made me fall in love with reading.

“People who called her a pest did not understand that a littler person sometimes had to be a little bit noisier and a little bit more stubborn in order to be noticed at all.”

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- I’m horrified that we live in a world where this novel is increasingly relevant. But if we must live in a world like that for time being, I’m thankful that it exists. It’s a warning and a call to arms in one volume. I read it for the first time in high school. At the time, I was just starting identify what being a feminist meant to me, as opposed to how other people perceived it. Before I read this book I tended to think of it as  equal opportunity for education and employment. I saw it as the idea that I didn’t need a man to survive, and that my value wasn’t defined by my male partner. I still believe all of that. But this book really illustrated how much physical autonomy is a part of it. Women’s bodies are seen by our society as a sort of common ground. From there it’s a very slippery slope. Men start feeling qualified to make decisions about women’s health, their sexuality.  In so many ways this has ceased to be speculative fiction, and become frighteningly realistic. But there is one way that the United States is different from Gilead. We can read what we want. And that might be the best reason to read this book. It’s why I’m so thankful that it exists.

“But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.
Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.”

51pwjyt4e0l-_ac_us218_6. Beauty by Robin McKinley- When I first started college, I had a question for one of the girls in the dorm room down the hall from mine (don’t ask me what it was, I honestly don’t remember!) When I opened the door, she was sprawled on her bed reading this book. Immediately we started talking about fairy tale retellings! So this book helped me make one of my first friends in college. Actually that’s not the only friend that I’ve made due to Beauty and the Beast retellings (but that’s another story…)  But it also was one of my first exposures to fairy tales retold for older readers. It allowed me to see a familiar take in a new way, and turned me on to so many other fairy tale retellings! Later, writers like Angela Carter, Anne Sexton, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Cunningham showed me that fairy tale retellings can also be literary, or shocking, or subversive.

“Would it help perhaps if I told you that, had your father returned to me alone, I would have sent him on his way unharmed?”

“You would!” I said; it was half a shriek. “You mean that I came here for nothing?”

A shadowy movement like the shaking of a great shaggy head. “No. Not what you would count as nothing. He would have returned to you, and you would have been glad, but you also would have been ashamed, because you had sent him, as you thought, to his death. Your shame would have grown until you came to hate the sight of your father, because he reminded you of a deed you hated, and hated yourself for. In time it would have ruined your peace and happiness, and at last your mind and heart.”

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_7. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- I feel a little odd being thankful for this book, because it’s hard to stomach in many ways. It discusses abuse and trauma that are almost too horrible to believe. In one way you could read it as saying that there are things that can happen to a person that are just too terrible to endure.  But I didn’t read it that way. Thankfully, I read it at a time in my life where I was able to take it as an affirmation of the power of friendship and love. It’s about the beauty of the struggle through life. By the end of the book, a character who has lost so, so much, is left with compassion.  To me that’s a really beautiful notion.

“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.”

51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- I definitely identified with the heroine of this book. Her name was Francie, mine was Fran. She loved to read, and I loved to read. She lived in Brooklyn and I… well I’d lived there for a year when I was a baby, and so I’m pretty sure that we have that in common too! I think I was about twelve the first time I read this. I read it again in college and was stunned to discover how much I missed, how much went over my head on that first read!  It’s harsh and realistic; poignant and bittersweet.

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”

51c3wnrodsl-_ac_us218_9. Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen- Let’s face it: historically speaking Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday (to say the least!). That’s one reason I look at it as a time to be with my family and take stock the people and things I’m grateful for, as opposed to honoring a largely fictional story of the pilgrims. Even as a child I read enough to know that the happy, friendly version of the Thanksgiving story that we were given wasn’t the whole story. So I was grateful to discover this book, about an immigrant girl who feels uncomfortable in the US. When her teacher has the class make pilgrim dolls for Thanksgiving, Molly and her mother make a doll that looks like them; a Russian Jew who comes to America fleeing religious persecution (like them). This teaches Molly’s classmates that a pilgrim isn’t only someone who sailed on the Mayflower. It also proves that by coming to the US for religious freedom, Molly, an immigrant, is just as much an American as some of the first settlers. That’s something that a lot of contemporary Americans should consider when condemning immigrants, and people who practice religions that aren’t Christianity.

“Pilgrims came to this country from the other side,” I said.
“Like us,” Mama said.
That was true. “They came for religious freedom,” I added. “They came so they could worship God as they pleased.”
Mama’s eyes lit up. She seemed to understand.

51anzhy5btl-_ac_us218_10. Fairy Tales from around the world- This might be cheating since it’s really more of a category than a single book, but fairy tales shaped my childhood in a way that nothing else did. They shape what I write now. They taught me the important things in life: that sometimes things aren’t what they first appear to be, that a good heart is never completely unrewarded, that you can’t get something for nothing, and that magic will only save you if you use it wisely.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”

~Albert Einstein~

I’m also thankful for

  • Parents who read to me all the time, taught me to read for myself, and encouraged me to read everything I could get my hands on!
  • The books, fiction and nonfiction, that taught me something new, let me look at something with new eyes, and changed or influenced my perspective in some way.
  • All of the books that I can’t list on here that took me to a different time or place. That gave me an escape from reality when I need one, or even simply, a friend when I needed one.
  • All the wonderful people I’ve met this year through this blog; and the wonderful books that they’ve helped me discover!

Top Ten Tuesday: American Classics

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from Top Ten Tuesday, but there’s no reason why I have to do the same. Dwell in Possibility had the idea of doing the Top Ten American Classics in honor of the 4th of July, and I liked the idea.

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith– I related to Francie, the heroine of this coming of age story the first time I read it, and it’s definitely stayed with me over the years. It’s easy to say that it’s a sentimental novel about the days of youth, but those days we often remember as being “carefree” were really anything but. Smith doesn’t diminish the dramas of the schoolyard or the family crises with which Francie copes. 51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_
  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin- This is easy to see as an early feminist novel, in which the heroine struggles against the expectations of her family and New Orleans society. But you could also look at Edna as a narcissist who destroys her own life and that of those around her. I remember getting into an argument about this in my high school English class.51mlrlxawfl-_ac_us218_
  3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– Yes this book is racist. The characters are racist. I don’t excuse that, but I feel like there is a lot to enjoy in spite of it. Scarlett O’Hara is an interesting character precisely because she isn’t likable. She’s selfish, spoiled, entitled, and stubborn. In another book she might be a villain. But here, we find ourselves rooting for her, in spite of her actions.51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_
  4. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison– On one level, this is the coming of age story of Milkman Dead. On another level it’s about Milkman’s family, and a century’s worth of secrets, ghosts, and angst. On still another level, it’s about the universal search for lost identity.413unpgvwyl-_ac_us218_
  5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck– This novel, described by the author as his magnum opus, tells the stories of two families. It’s about the relationships between fathers and sons and siblings (the biblical story of Genesis- particularly Cain and Abel is a recurring allusion). It’s also about choice and humanity. It’s on my list of books to reread at some point because I suspect that by reading it at different points in my life I’ll get more out of it.51yjn5lr6l-_ac_us218_
  6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner– The title of this novel is taken from Macbeth’s soliloquy: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.” So right away Faulkner tells us that we are reading “a tale told by an idiot”. At first it seems like that’s a reference to Benjamin (Benjy) Compson, the intellectually disabled son of the Compson family, who narrates the first section of this novel. But it could also refer to the points of view of Quinton and Jason Compson, who narrate the second and third sections of the novel. Both display their own kinds of idiocy.  But the significant reference might lie in an earlier part of the soliloquy that the title alludes to: “all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death.” As a whole this novel is really about the “way to dusty death” of the Compson family.51uoptbnrgl-_ac_us218_
  7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– From the time we’re children we’re taught to follow directions and stay in the lines. The people who don’t do that are often segregated from society. Randale McMurphy enters a ward of such people at a mental hospital, where he defies the stern hand of Nurse Ratched, the dictator-like nurse who runs the ward. It’s easy to sympathize with the fun loving McMurphy at the expense of Nurse Ratched, but when we remember that we’re getting the story from a very unreliable narrator (a schizophrenic in a mental ward) it takes on different (and perhaps darker) tones.51bcb3mckel-_ac_us218_
  8.  The Turn of the Screw by Henry James– this gothic, ghost story is notable because it’s hard to determine the exact nature of the evil the story hints at. An unnamed narrator is hired to be a governess to two orphaned children. One of the children, has recently been expelled from school for unknown reasons. The narrator fears that it might have something to do with the two figures that she sees around the state, or her predecessor, Miss Jessel. Through subtle hints, James makes us question our narrator’s sanity. Are the ghostly figures that she sees just her imagination? It’s arguably more frightening if the narrator is losing her mind than if the ghosts were real.  51zs71vreul-_ac_us218_
  9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– I love Shirley Jackson. A lot of people only read “The Lottery” in school, but this short novel of Merricat Blackwood and her sister Constance, expands on some themes that the story touches on, and is chilling in its own way. After most of the Blackwood family dies after being poisoned, Merricat, Constance, and their uncle, Julian live in the family home. Constance was acquitted for the murder of her family but the court of public opinion holds her very much guilty. We do learn what eventually happened to the Blackwood family, and the revelation is both macabre and darkly humorous. 5180ubrqqzl-_ac_us218_
  10. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates– this is a fictionalized novel that imagines the inner life of Marilyn Monroe. But throughout the book Marilyn Monroe’s identity is constructed by external forces. I think that this book is largely about the American obsession with fame. It’s about the destruction that an identity can undergo when it’s defined from the outside. We may not consider it a classic now, but I suspect we will someday. And since Monroe is a classic American icon, I think this belongs on this list. 51qypwi7ffl-_ac_us218_