Persephone Readathon #3 Challenges

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Since I finished my reads for this Persephone Readathon a bit early, I thought that I’d take on some of the challenges.

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As I mentioned in my previous post I read Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (loved it!) this time around.

The book follows Hilary Wainright, a British intellectual who married Lisa, a French girl, just prior to WWII. They were separated just before the German occupation, with Lisa stuck in Paris with their newborn son, and Hilary in England. Lisa was a resistance worker and was killed during the war. The baby disappeared. After the war, Hilary returns to France to try to find his son. He has a friend who is devoted to helping him, but he’s not sure how he’ll know if the child (who he only saw as a newborn) is his. Furthermore, after his wife’s death, Hilary successfully turned off his emotions. He is reluctant to make himself emotionally vulnerable again.

Beautiful Endpapers: Show us a photo of your current book’s endpapers/your favorite Persephone endpapers/or design your own endpapers.

This is the endpaper used in Little Boy Lost:

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The endpaper is a fabric designed in 1946 by the Hélène Gallèt studio in Paris – the green is reminiscent of bourgeois France, and the pattern has both fleur-de-lis and childlike, primitive stars.

In Six Words: Describe your current Persephone read in 6 words.

-heartbreaking

-haunting

-beautiful

-compelling

-poignant

-metaphorical

Quote This: Share a quote from your current read.

I think this quote sums up the main character’s dilemma through out the book.

“You see, Pleaded Hilary, I am incapable of giving. I dare not give and so I’m running away. I’ve finished with ordeals. I am fleeing to the anesthesia of immediate comfort and absolute non-obligation.”

The book ends with a beautiful passage that I won’t quote here because of spoilers.

Read This: Give a book recommendation/readalike based on a Persephone title.

My recommendation in this case would be another Persephone book: Saplings by Noel Streatfeild. Like Little Boy Lost, Saplings looks at what happens to children during wartime, and like Little Boy Lost, it’s not pretty. But the children in both these books are in some sense lucky. They’re not exposed to direct violence and they’re not left without adult care. To some extent, their physical needs for food and shelter are met. Yet they all suffer terrible loss and lack the consistency and affection that children need.

Page to Screen: Share the Persephone title you would most like to see adapted for the screen. Include your dream cast if you’d like.

mv5bntlknwexyzyty2riyi00zmrkltgznzgtyze5odaxmgrjmwq3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndqzmdg4nzk40._v1_Well Little Boy Lost was made into a film in 1953. It was a musical starring Bing Crosby which seems like a very odd choice given the source material. I haven’t seen it but I’d kind of like to out of morbid curiosity. Crosby seems totally miscast as the Hilary I imagine. In terms of contemporary actors I think that Matthew Goode or Harry Lloyd might work.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Didn’t Like But Am Glad I Read

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

May 15: Books I Disliked/Hated but Am Really Glad I Read (maybe just for bragging rights)

51j4urrkj3l-_ac_us218_1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy– I read this my freshman year of college. I wanted to like it, but after 1000 pages of characters and battles that I didn’t care about, I couldn’t. I just felt no emotional investment in anything that happened in it.  I’m glad I read it though, even if only to say that I did!

 

 

51juyqutpyl-_ac_us218_2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy– I read this book several years after reading War and Peace, and I didn’t like it much better. I did have some interest in the Anna/Vronsky story as well as the Kitty/Levin story, but reading a few hundred pages about Russian agriculture was enough to kill that interest. One of my professors in college said that “Tolstoy was a great writer who needed a great  editor.” Perhaps I’d enjoy him more as a writer if he’d had one.

 

4113v6q36il-_ac_us218_3. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer– The first time I read this I enjoyed it somewhat. Then I started to think about some of the troubling aspects of the central relationship. Then I read the sequels and things headed downhill at an increasing speed… But I’m glad I read it because it’s spawned so many imitations and prompted some interesting conversations.

 

519tffz6szl-_ac_us218_4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke– I actually didn’t “dislike” this book. I love the idea of writing a novel as an academic study of magic. I liked a lot of the humor in this and thought it was very clever. The problem is that I wasn’t able to invest anywhere emotionally. I didn’t particularly care about either character. That made the undeniably clever writing fall flat. I’m glad I read it for the elements that I did like, but I wish I’d enjoyed it more.

 

41ntp6atgkl-_ac_us218_5. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson– This is a book that I really wanted to like. I thought I would like it prior to reading it. Actually, I did enjoy the first 1/3. But then it started getting very repetitive. Every time I felt like we were making some progress, we’d be sent back to the beginning again. Yes, I understand that was the premise. But for me, it worked better as a premise than in practice. I’m still glad I read it because it’s allowed me to participate in some really interesting discussions, with people who did like it as well as people who didn’t.

51-obg7xgml-_ac_us218_6. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand– I actually don’t remember too much about the actual plot, but philosophically it didn’t appeal to me at all. It could have been subtitled “why it’s really a good thing to be selfish.” Here’s the thing; I don’t believe that it is good. I know a lot of people find the book inspiring and think that it encourages them to take personal responsibility to lift themselves up by the bootstraps, and all that. But in order to do that, you need boots, to begin with. I’m glad I read it because it shows another point of view and a way of perceiving the world that’s different from my own. But I didn’t enjoy it or agree with it.

51gkxhz8wgl-_ac_us218_7. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson– Here’s the thing. It’s not all small stuff. Some stuff is big and important. Stressing about it won’t necessarily help anything, but sometimes it’s a part of being involved in the world around you. As you may be able to tell, I have a tendency to stress. A lot. Which is why I read this book.  I don’t want to say it wasn’t worthwhile because it did put some things in perspective, I did notice a few things that weren’t worth the time and attention I was giving them and it helped me notice some bad habits that make my life a bit harder. But, for me, stress is a byproduct of caring. I don’t want to stop caring about the important things.

51pgysvdoel-_ac_us218_8. Blood Meridian: or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy– I read this in a college class called “Innovative Contemporary Fiction.” It stood out as the only book in the class that I really disliked. Maybe part of my distaste for it stems from the fact that I’m not a fan of the western genre in general. McCarthy is an undeniably talented writer, but the book featured a lot of repetitive violence that is essentially pointless. We don’t care about the people on whom the violence is inflicted, nor is there any emotional connection to those inflicting it, so essentially it’s rendered meaningless. I appreciated the accomplishment of McCarthy’s prose, and for that reason, I’m glad I read it in an academic setting because we were able to really delve into that. But it’s not a book I liked.

41fcz0g6yal-_ac_us218_9. Just Kids by Patti Smith– I first discovered Patti Smith as a writer rather than a musician, which I think is how many readers know her initially. I read her book M Train, which I felt was beautiful, sad, and triumphant, in a quiet, thoughtful way. I was really eager to read her National Book Award-winning bestseller, Just Kids.  Maybe the hype made it too hard for the book to live up to it. Maybe, because I read M Train, a memoir of Smith’s middle-aged years onward, going back to her youth in this book felt regressive. I don’t know. I did like parts of it, such as the depiction of the downtown NYC art scene in the late 1960’s, but on the whole, it didn’t resonate with me. I’m glad that I did read it because it allowed me to put the Smith depicted in M Train in a more complete context, but I wouldn’t call it a “must read.”

41ttg75bcil-_ac_us160_10. The Bhagavad Gita– The Bhagavad Gita is a 700 verse scripture that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. It consists of a dialogue between the Prince Arjuna and his guide Lord Krishna. It’s influenced thinkers ranging from Gandhi to Thoreau, to Emerson, Jung, and Oppenheimer. I read it as part of my Freshman Seminar in college. I didn’t enjoy reading it. I found it rather repetitive and cumbersome. But so many of my classes in college focused on literature from the Western canon. It was nice to have a class that had a more broad lens.

 

 

Why I Write What I Write

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When I first wrote Beautiful, it was more of a personal challenge than anything I thought that I’d someday publish. At the time I wasn’t really thinking about what writing it would do for my writing “career” and what kind of impression that I’d make by writing it. A lot went into my decision to publish this book (explaining all that is a whole nother post…) but one question that I didn’t anticipate asking was “do I want this to be what I write?”

I’ve wanted to write books pretty much since I learned how to read them. At some point, I figured that anything I wrote would be deep and literary. I’ve definitely tried to write what people would call “literary fiction” but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as fantasy does. Still, the snob in me questioned whether I was comfortable being known as an author of “genre fiction.” What if I wanted to write great literature one day and couldn’t because I’d been branded a fantasy writer? (as if that were the only thing keeping me from producing the Great American Novel!) I worried about the stigma that fantasy carries also.  And YA. And fairy tale retellings. Especially those based on Beauty and the Beast (perhaps the most popular retold tale).

So what changed? Nothing really. I just stopped caring. Maybe I just got more mature. I write what comes naturally. I write when and where I feel like I have something to say. If I want to change genres, I will. If other people don’t like it, they’re free to not read my work. If people think I’m less intelligent or creative because I write YA or fantasy, they’re wrong. It’s not easy. Same with people who have a negative opinion of me creatively because I retell (I think “reimagine” is a better word here) fairy tales.

That’s not to say I don’t worry about what people think about what I write. I do. I worry that they won’t think it’s good. I worry that they won’t enjoy it, or they’ll feel cheated somehow. Part of my publishing journey is overcoming that fear. My hope is that readers will have a few hours of enjoyment with my work. A few hours of escape from their problems. Maybe they’ll find something in it that they connect with. Maybe they’ll think about something a bit differently. But really if they enjoy it, I’ll be happy. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see whether or not I’ve hit the mark there.

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.