Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Settings I’d Love To Visit

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

December 5: Ten Bookish Settings I’d Love to Visit

I decided to keep this list to bookish settings that actually exist. So much as I’d like to visit Narnia, or Hogwarts, these can all be found on a map or globe. Also I decided it to limit to places where I’ve never been (yet).

1. Prince Edward Island, Canada as seen in the work of LM Montgomery– I’ve loved the work on LM Mongomery since I was a child and Prince Edward Island is a character that is consistent in her work. It sounds beautiful. It looks beautiful based on the pictures that I’ve seen. It’s definitely on my literary travel list!

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“…the Lake of Shining Waters was blue — blue — blue; not the changeful blue of spring, nor the pale azure of summer, but a clear, steadfast, serene blue, as if the water were past all modes and tenses of emotion and had settled down to a tranquillity unbroken by fickle dreams.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

2. Scotland as seen in the work of Diana Gabaldon, The Lymond Chronicles by  Dorothy Dunnett, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson,  the  Too Deep for Tears trilogy by Katheryn Lynne Davis, Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware- I’ve read a lot of books set in Scotland, that draw on the rich history and beautiful landscape. My third grade teacher was Scottish and had what sounded like the coolest accent to me at the time. In some ways it seems that Scotland is an enchanted fairy land more than a real place to me! But I do know people who have been there and assure me it’s real, and that while there are certainly the fantasy places that are described in books, there are many normal places too.

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“The sigh of all the seas breaking in measure round the isles soothed them; the night wrapped them; nothing broke their sleep, until, the birds beginning and the dawn weaving their thin voices in to its whiteness”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

3. Cornwall, England as seen in the work of Daphne DuMaurier– The cliff-side mansion in Rebecca. The smugglers hideout in Jamaica Inn, the pirates of Frenchman’s Creek. Cornwall is a place of mystery, danger and romance in my eyes, thanks in large part to Daphne DuMaurier.

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

4. The Yorkshire Moors, England as seen in the work of the Bronte sisters, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgden Burnett

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‘And what are those golden rocks like when you stand under them?’ she once asked.

The abrupt descent of Penistone Crags particularly attracted her notice; especially when the setting sun shone on it and the topmost heights, and the whole extent of landscape besides lay in shadow. I explained that they were bare masses of stone, with hardly enough earth in their clefts to nourish a stunted tree.

‘And why are they bright so long after it is evening here?’ she pursued.

‘Because they are a great deal higher up than we are,’ replied I; ‘you could not climb them, they are too high and steep. In winter the frost is always there before it comes to us; and deep into summer I have found snow under that black hollow on the north-east side!’

-Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

“Listen to th’ wind wutherin’ round the house,” she said. “You could bare stand up on the moor if you was out on it tonight.”
Mary did not know what “wutherin'” meant until she listened, and then she understood. It must mean that hollow shuddering sort of roar which rushed round and round the house, as if the giant no one could see were buffeting it and beating at the walls and windows to try to break in. But one knew he could not get in, and somehow it made one feel very safe and warm inside a room with a red coal fire.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

5. Paris, France as seen in Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens- Yes, I am very aware that these are books that depict very different era’s in Paris’ history. Of the three the Paris in The Elegance of the Hedgehog is probably most like the Paris I’d visit today. But I also know that the Cathedral de Notre Dame , still stands, with it’s gargoyles even if Quasimodo isn’t hiding among them. And there are still shades of the reign of terror that Dickens depicted.  I’ve read about Paris in a lot of other books too. Books set in occupied Paris during WWII. Books depicting la belle epoque. In some ways that convergence of beauty and violence is what makes the city seem so appealing to me.

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“Admirable, however, as the Paris of the present day appears to you, build up and put together again in imagination the Paris of the fifteenth century; look at the light through that surprising host of steeples, towers, and belfries; pour forth amid the immense city, break against the points of its islands, compress within the arches of the bridges, the current of the Seine, with its large patches of green and yellow, more changeable than a serpent’s skin; define clearly the Gothic profile of this old Paris upon an horizon of azure, make its contour float in a wintry fog which clings to its innumerable chimneys; drown it in deep night, and observe the extraordinary play of darkness and light in this sombre labyrinth of buildings; throw into it a ray of moonlight, which shall show its faint outline and cause the huge heads of the towers to stand forth from amid the mist; or revert to that dark picture, touch up with shade the thousand acute angles of the spires and gables, and make them stand out, more jagged than a shark’s jaw, upon the copper-coloured sky of evening. Now compare the two.”

-Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out…”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

6. Barcelona, Spain as seen in The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon- The Barcelona seen in this novel is a twisty, Gothic place full of hidden secrets. In other words, it’s the kind of place I could really go for! Sure Zafon claims that some locations from the novel such as the rambling Hospice of Santa Lucia or the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books are fictional, but it seems like the kind of place where one might turn a corner and unexpectedly find something strange and beautiful.gothic-quarter-barcelona

“Before we knew it, we were walking along the breakwater until the whole city, shining with silence, speak out at our feet like the greatest mirage in the universe, emerging from the pool of the harbor waters. We sat on the edge of the jetty to gaze at the sight.

“This city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.”

-The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

7. The Greek Islands as seen in The Magus by John Fowles- The book’s setting, the island of Phraxos, is technically fictional. But the author based it on his time on the real Greek island of Spetses, so I think it still counts for this list. The island that Fowles describes is beautiful and mysterious and isolated. It’s the kind of place where it’s easy to be overwhelmed and see menace hidden in the beauty. That’s certainly what happens to our narrator, Nicholas Urfe, in the novel. But since his sanity is open to debate, I think it’s also the kind of place where I might enjoy going and getting away from it all.

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“The lifeless sea was ruffled here and there by a lost zephyr, by a stippling shoal of sardines, dark ash-blue lines that snaked, broad then narrow, in slow motion across the shimmering mirageous surface, as if the water was breeding corruption.”

-The Magus by John Fowles

8. India as seen in The Far Pavillions by MM Kaye- Actually, I think that parts of this novel also take place in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. While it’s set in the 19th century the beautiful mountains stand out to me as a strong setting. It’s what I remember most about the book, and what I’d most love to see if I ever visit that part of the world. 10717253

“They rode out together from the shadows of the trees, leaving the Bala Hissar and the glowing torch of the burning Residency behind them, and spurred away across the flat lands towards the mountains…
And it may even be that they found their Kingdom.”
― M.M. Kaye, The Far Pavilions

9. Egypt as seen in The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif- When I was a kid I think I imagined Egypt as being desert, pyramids, sphinxes, and mummies walking around wrapped in toilet paper (in retrospect I think my childhood perception of Egypt might have been largely based on an episode of Scooby Doo). The Egypt that this book depicts has none of that. Well, we do see desert and pyramids, but  we also see cities and the Nile. It makes Egypt seem like a vivid place that’s almost breathes and has a pulse.

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“Fields and more fields on either side of the road.From where they are it looks as if the whole world were green.But from higher up,from a hill-if there were a hill in this flat country-or from a pyramid(one of the many that two thousand years ago lined this route from Thebes to Memphis,from the Delta to the Cataract)or from an aeroplane today,you would be able to see how narrow the strip green was,how closely it clung to the winding river.The river like a lifeline thrown across the desert, the villages and the town hanging on to it, clustering together, glancing over their shoulders at the desert always behind them.Appeasing it,finally,by making it the dwelling of their head.”
― Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love

10. Ireland as seen in the novels of Maeve Binchy, Cecelia Ahern, Marian Keyes, the Exit Unicorn series by Cindy Brandner, The Mermaid’s Singing by Lisa Carey- In some ways I think if Ireland in a way similar to Scotland; full of myths and lore. But I’ve also read enough Irish work set in contemporary times to have a better sense of what it is today. I’d still like to go, because I think that the richness of the lore pervades a place.

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But the sea, despite its allure, is not our destination. For we seek land- a land of myth and madness, of poets and politicians, rebels and raconteurs, of blood and brotherhood. A land unlike any other, half legend, half truth, wholly and terribly beautiful.

We fly through the night, until we see a line on the horizon, and we feel the relief of homecoming after such a very long voyage, after the faceless ocean undulating eternally beneath us. And so here we arrive, to the edge of a country of limestone cliffs, soft-faced with moss and nesting gulls . In we fly across a patchwork quilt of a thousand shades of green and low stone walls, with sheep dotting the dawn’s landscape. But do not let this enchantment fool you, for this is a land that has known much pain, whose fields are watered well and deep with blood. This is an old land, and our people have lived here long, some saying we were the small dark ones that dwelled in the trees, before the coming of the Celts, but we are older even than them. We knew this land before man, before God, before light.

-Flights of Angels by Cindy Brandner

11. Florence, Italy as seen in The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer, A Room with a View by EM Forster- Florence in these books seems more alive than other places. It’s a place where people are able to get away from social notions of respectability, and really get in touch with their feelings.

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“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling whereon pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons. It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

” Reader, I murdered him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Back To School Freebie

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

August 22Back To School Freebie: anything “back to school” related like 10 favorite books I read in school, books I think should be required reading, Required Reading For All Fantasy Fans, required reading for every college freshman, Books to Pair With Classics or Books To Complement A History Lesson, books that would be on my classroom shelf if I were a teacher, etc.

This week I’m doing ten favorite  books set in schools

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– Richard arrives at the prestigious Hampden College, where he is accepted among a group of five students who study Classics with Julien Morrow, an eccentric, morally questionable professor. They spend a lot of time drinking they confess to Richard that one night they accidentally killed a man while drunk. By telling Richard what happened, they make him involved in the cover up. But when one of the group wants to come clean, the others decide that they must kill him too. This second murder leads to a slow erosion of what moral standards the group may have had, and ultimately emotional and psychological disintegration. I read this for the first time in high school at the same time that my English class was reading Crime and Punishment. I saw strong parallels throughout the novel (though there are also a lot of allusions to Greek Classics) and even noticed that Richard’s narration quotes Dostoevsky at one point.

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

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– Yes, this was also made into a film. The film adaptation is pretty good but, unsurprisingly, the book is better. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are students at Hailsham, a school in the British countryside, where the teachers constantly remind the students how special they are. When the reader learns what makes the students at Hailsham unique, it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a slowly dawning realization As you’re reading and speculating what the secret might be, you’re also hoping that you’re wrong. We’re never actually explicitly told the reason but eventually the evidence mounts to the point where it’s impossible for the reader to ignore. That element of slowly dawning horror was absent from the film, unfortunately, where we are told the secret in the first ten minutes. The film does explore the repercussions and implications, but it misses the slow impact of the book.

“I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”

41xfknijvel-_ac_us218_3. Villette by Charlotte Bronte– Lucy Snowe, an orphan without resources, travels to France to teach English at a boarding school for girls. At the school Lucy becomes involved in the lives of several teachers and locals, and is visited by the ghostly figure of a nun, who was believed to have been buried alive on the school grounds as punishment for being unchaste. She also falls in love with M. Paul Emmanuel, another teacher at the school. But the lovers are kept apart by several antagonists. This book is said to be based on Charlotte Bronte’s time teaching English at a French boarding school where she fell in love with the (married) headmaster. Initially this experience inspired her first, unsuccessful novel, The Professor. After that book was rejected by publishers, Bronte reworked the material and turned it into Villette, which was her fourth novel.

“What I felt that night, and what I did, I no more expected to feel and do, than to be lifted in a trance to the seventh heaven. Cold, reluctant, apprehensive, I had accepted a part to please another: ere long, warming, becoming interested, taking courage, I acted to please myself.”

51kuavgfel-_ac_us218_4. The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy– Will McLean is a sensitive writer, who attends The Carolina Military Institute to fulfill a promise to his dead father. Even though Will isn’t suited for the brutality of  military training, his success as an athlete, his strong academic performances, and his general integrity, draw the admiration of his classmates and teachers. But the south in the 1960’s is in turmoil over desegregation, and the school has just admitted it’s first black cadet. Will is asked to support and mentor Tom Pearce, who is sure to face some degree of racism. But when it becomes clear that a group of students is trying to run Tom out of the Institute, Will encounters a secret so horrible that it could destroy the Institute.  This is primarily a coming of age story told from Will’s point of view. In his four years at the Institute, Will has a romance, encounters corruption, and must decide what kind of person he ultimately wants to be.

“Evil would always come to me disguised in systems and dignified by law.”

41nfbzo132l-_ac_us218_5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith– This book has been described by the author as an “homage” to EM Forester’s Howard’s End. There are some specific parallels, but the novels are more broadly linked by the depiction of two families with very different values, becoming intertwined. In this case, one family is the Belsey family; Howard (a white Englishman), Kiki (his African American wife), and their children. Howard is a university professor and his nemesis is Monty Kipps, a Trinidadian, living in Britain, with his wife, Carlene, and their kids. In spite of the tensions between their husbands, Kiki and Carlene become friends.  But rivalry between their husbands grows as Howard and Monty clash over university policies, as Monty’s successes highlight Howard’s failures. When their children become involved with the goings on at the university things get even more chaotic.

“He was bookish, she was not; he was theoretical, she political. She called a rose a rose. He called it an accumulation of cultural and biological constructions circulating around the mutually attracting binary poles of nature/artifice.”

61yilvqhjhl-_ac_us218_6. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett– When British widower, Captain Ralph Crewe, who has been living in India sends his daughter Sara, to Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Girls in London, he pays extra for her to have special treatment. Miss Minchin is openly kind to Sara because of her wealth. But she secretly resents the girl for that very reason. Sara is a generally kindhearted girl who makes friends with the underdogs of the school. But when Miss Minchin gets word that Captain Crewe has died, and lost his wealth just before his death, she is left with a large unpaid bill for Sara’s school fees and luxuries. So she takes all of Sara’s possessions, makes her live in the attic and work in the school as an errand girl. Despite her misfortunes Sara relies of the support of her friends, and her vivid imagination. Meanwhile, Captain Crewe’s friend, and business partner, Carrisford, is guilt ridden. Their business ventures did not fail as they’d believed, but  Captain Crewe and Carrisford were both  ill and delirious. By the time Carrisford had recovered and learned that their ventures had made them both wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, Captain Crewe was dead. He is determined to find Captain Crewe’s daughter, and heir.

“Perhaps to be able to learn things quickly isn’t everything. To be kind is worth a great deal to other people…Lots of clever people have done harm and have been wicked.”

51muf7bj-ll-_ac_us218_7. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– Kvothe is an innkeeper who was once a swordfighter, magician, and musician, rumored to have killed a king and started a war. When he save the life of Chronicler, a travelling scribe, he agrees to tell Chronicler the story of his life. As a child, Kvothe grew up among a  group of traveling performers. When the troupe acquires a scholar Kvothe gains tutoring in science and “sympathy” (a magic that changes one object by using links with another). When the troupe is massacred, Kvothe is left alone. In order to learn more about the reasons for the massacre, Kvothe manages to get in the University,  where the vast archives might have the information he seeks. But he also makes some dangerous enemies, among the students and the instructors. This is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Wise Man’s Fear. The third is forthcoming.

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”

51wdp-epb5l-_ac_us218_8. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman– While I might have appreciated this book before I became a teacher, I don’t think it would have resonated with me as much. There are parts where I was reading and thinking “OMG this is my life!” Not literally. Some things have changed in education since the book came out in 1964. But surprisingly few.  When Sylvia Barrett graduates from college and gets a teaching job, she’s eager to shape young minds. She ends up  buried in interoffice memos, lesson plans, and letters to and from students/parents/other teachers/administration. The story is told entirely through these memos, notes, and letters.  If it were written today, the story might be told via emails and texts, but the content would be largely the same. What keeps this book in the humorous (rather than being just depressing!) is that in spite of all of the crap they have to go through, at times the system is redeemed by teachers who genuinely care about their students, and by students who want to learn. That doesn’t always happen and too many fall through the cracks in a flawed system. But when it does happen that connection does happen it’s worthy of celebrating. It’s something that Sylvia learns in the course of this book.  But its also something that she’ll constantly have to remind herself of as she struggles through the days that can feel endless.

“I am writing this during my free . . . oops! un-assigned period, at the end of my first day of teaching. So far, I have taught nothing — but I have learned a great deal. To wit:
We have to punch a time clock and abide by the Rules.
We must make sure our students likewise abide, and that they sign the time sheet whenever they leave or reenter a room.
We have keys but no locks (except in lavatories), blackboards but no chalk, students but no seats, teachers but no time to teach.
The library is closed to the students.”

51qlgj6zojl-_ac_us218_9. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- Did anyone actually think that I was going to leave Hogwarts off my list? Has anyone reading this list not been “sorted”? I’m a Ravenclaw, in cause anyone was wondering. Haven’t we all had moments where we long for an owl messenger or a hidden train platform? Over the first six books in this series, Hogwarts becomes a character in and of itself. Which makes the fact that the seventh book takes the characters away from Hogwarts all the more jarring. But it’s also interesting to see that they carry it with them wherever they may be. For all the characters, Hogwarts itself, the teachers, the students, the ghosts, and Quiddich becomes ingrained in who they are as people. And I think most readers could say the same.

“What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?”
At this, Hermione stood up, her hand stretching towards the dungeon ceiling.
I don’t know,” said Harry quietly. “I think Hermione does, though, why don’t you try asking her?”
A few people laughed; Harry caught sight of Seamus’s eye and Seamus winked. Snape, however, was not pleased.
Sit down,” he snapped at Hermione. “For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren’t you all copying that down?”
There was a sudden rummaging for quills and parchment. Over the noise, Snape said, “And a point will be taken from Gryffindor house for your cheek, Potter.”

51rvjiougpl-_ac_us218_10. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray- In 1895, Gemma Doyle has a vision of her mother’s death, just before her mother commits suicide in India, and Gemma is shipped off to boarding school in England. At the Spence Academy for Young Ladies, Gemma must deal with the guilt about not having prevented her mother’s death,  her continuing visions of the future, and being shunned by her classmates. She’s also been followed by Katrik, a mysterious Indian boy who warns her to fight off her visions. As Gemma manages to form bonds with some other girls at Spence, she and her friends are drawn into the other worldly realms of her visions. They look at it as a “bit of fun” before their future as the wives of Victorian men. But there may be more danger than they’re aware of. The realms of Gemma’s visions are powerful, and several organizations want that power for themselves. This trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) has strong echoes of Gothic novels like Jane Eyre or Rebecca. But it also has elements of fantasy that call to mind a more feminist Harry Potter. The series also deals with social issues in Victorian times.  It’s hard to explain but it’s  a lot of fun!

“Felicity ignores us. She walks out to them, an apparition in white and blue velvet, her head held high as they stare in awe at her, the goddess. I don’t know yet what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I’m beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It’s not that they want to protect us; it’s that they fear us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Gables as seen in the 1985 television miniseries.

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

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

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

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Tara, as seen the the 1939 film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”