Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want To Reread

For ThatArtsyReaderGirl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 1: Books I Want to Read Again (This could mean books you plan on re-reading OR books you wish you could read again for the first time.)

I was commenting the other day about how my “want to reread” list is getting to be almost as long as my TBR. Sadly I hardly ever feel like I have time for rereads because there are so many books out there that I haven’t read yet. But here are a few I want to revisit.

1. Devil Water by Anya Seton– I read this when I was in college or shortly after. I tend to remember Seton’s books by little facts about them rather than overall plot. Only in this case, I don’t remember anything about the plot! I remember that it took place during a Jacobite rebellion in Scotland (1715 according to the synopsis) but other than that, nothing. Actually, if I had all the time in the world to reread things, I’d reread a lot of Anya Seton’s books.

2. Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray– I bought the first book because I liked the cover, but I quickly got pulled into the plot. It combined a lot of things that I love (feminism, fantasy, the Victorian era) and actually got me started reading YA again. I remember the broad strokes of the plot, but the details are hazy. I’m a little nervous to read it again though, because I’m afraid it won’t live up to my memory of it.

3. Evelina by Fanny Burney – I remember I read this because I heard that the author was a strong influence on Jane Austen. I definitely remember seeing the influence (focus on a young woman, comic misadventures, vulgar relatives, hypocritical society), and wanting to read more of Burney’s work, Actually that reminds me that her other work is still sitting on my TBR.

4. Sophie by Guy Burt– This book is sitting on my shelf. I have a vague memory of picking it up and reading it at some point in my life. I also remember something about it frustrated and confused me. Based on some of the reviews it looks like I wasn’t the only person who was confused. But I do wonder what it was about…

5. Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livsey- This is one of several books by Margot Livsey on my bookshelf. I remember at some point about 10-ish years ago I really liked her and read several of her books. But I don’t remember much about them. I picked this one to reread first because I liked the cover. I figure if I enjoy it, I’ll reread the others.

6. Middlemarch by George Eliot– I read this for a class in college. I remember finding it hard to get into, but once I did, I enjoyed it. But I suspect I’d probably get more out of it reading it now. It seems like the kind of story that improves as one matures.

7. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle– I read this as a kid and I remember liking it, and I remember it was about kids on a journey through space and time, trying to find their father. When the recent movie came out I read an article somewhere (I can’t remember where) that discussed some of the religious, political and scientific undertones and subtext in the book. Needless to say, that went totally over my head as a kid, but now I’m curious about them.

8. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle– This is actually 4th in L’Engle’s Austin family series. I remember enjoying the series as a kid, and finding it very different from the sci-f of A Wrinkle in Time. The reason I want to read this one in particular was that I recall the main character writing a poem in it, that 12 year old me found beautiful. I’m curious as to whether that holds up.

9. The Quincunx by Charles Palliser– I read this in college and I remember it was a combination of historical fiction and mystery. It was a complex, Dickensian plot, that when all was revealed it was kind of like a puzzle. But I don’t remember the specifics. It had something to do with a kid whose mom dies, and some inheritance. But that’s it.

10. This one is two books I want to reread for the exact same reason.

The Pirate Captain by Kerry Lynne and Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brander– Both books are the first books in a series. I enjoyed both for different reasons (The Pirate Captain was just a lot of fun, Exit Unicorns was a vivid depiction of characters and historical setting) I remember the broad strokes of the plot of each. But that’s all I remember. Both books are first in a series (the sequel to The Pirate Captain is Nor Gold, the sequel to Exit Unicorns is Mermaid in A Bowl of Tears) and I want to continue with both series. But I think I should remember more about how they started.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Being Worth the Effort

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

September 5Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Being Worth the Effort

These are all books that I considered putting down at one point (though in several chases they were assigned for school, but if they hadn’t been I may have considered it!) but I ended up being glad that I didn’t.

41cqtfv5hpl-_ac_us218_1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky- This was a book that I read with my AP Lit class in high school. I read it again in a 19th Century Novel class in college. It’s not easy going because a lot of what occurs takes place in the mind of Raskolnikov, the main character. Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex student living in St. Petersberg. He believes that there are some people who are a drain on society, who take advantage of the little guys, and who the world is ultimately better without. Surely we’d all be better off if these people would be put to death…. After a lot of deliberation, he kills Alyona Ivanovna, a greedy pawnbroker. In the process he also ends up killing her sister, Lizaveta, who happened to witness the crime. Once he makes his escape, Raskolnikov can’t get a moment’s peace. He worries obsessively over the details of the murder. Raskolnikov isn’t what you’d call psychologically sound. So spending a lot of time in his head can get confusing, and occasionally frustrating. But it’s worth it overall, to watch this feverish, tortured man, do the inexcusable, while truly believing it to be the best thing for society overall. It’s interesting to see him begin to realize the horror of what he’s done and wonder if redemption is possible.

418rxncl2rl-_ac_us218_2. The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– At first it feels like there’s too much happening here. We begin with the story of Johnny Truant, a tattoo artist who confesses to being “an unreliable narrator”. He’s looking for an apartment and his friend tells him about the apartment of Zampano, a recently deceased old man. In Zampano’s apartment, Truant finds a manuscript called “The Navidson Record” which is an academic study of a documentary film, which may or may not actually exist. So we have Zampano’s study of the film, Truant’s autobiographical asides, a transcript of part of the film, interviews with people involved in “The Navidson Record” and masses of footnotes. We also get some narration from Truant’s mother through a self contained set of letters. It gets overwhelming! But as we read, we discover that there are small cues to keep the narratives straight, and that eventually they all come together to create a whole.

61eiooixctl-_ac_us218_3. Middlemarch by George Eliot– I read this for a college class and initially it seemed like a huge chore. We had what seemed to be endless descriptions of this town. The subtitle of the book is “A Study of Provincial Life” and for the first few chapters it seemed more like an academic study than a novel. Fortunately, as time went on, we become more involved in the lives of the town people. To a large extent, the focus is on the life of Dorothea Brooks, and the career of Tertius Lydgate and how the two intersect. But significant attention is also given to the courtship of two townspeople, and one man’s disgrace. I was surprised to go from dreading reading about dry facts, to slowly becoming involved in the lives of these characters.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_4. Possession by AS Byatt– Byatt says that she wrote it in response to author John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman:

Fowles has said that the nineteenth-century narrator was assuming the omniscience of a god. I think rather the opposite is the case—this kind of fictive narrator can creep closer to the feelings and inner life of characters—as well as providing a Greek chorus—than any first-person mimicry. In ‘Possession’ I used this kind of narrator deliberately three times in the historical narrative—always to tell what the historians and biographers of my fiction never discovered, always to heighten the reader’s imaginative entry into the world of the text

The novel portrays two present day academics, Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, who investigate the life and relationship of two Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash (based on Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson) and Christabelle LaMotte (based on Christina Rosetti). They follow a trail of clues hidden in letters and journals,  to find out about the true nature of the Ash-LaMotte relationship, before rival colleagues do. The extensive diaries, poetry, and letters of the main characters are presented in the book as is the fictional poetry of Ash and LaMotte. All of this, and the academic way that Roland and Maud think, can initially make this feel dense and inapproachable. It takes some patience and getting used to.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_5. A  Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This isn’t a book that hard to read because anything about the text itself is difficult. Rather it’s hard because it’s is so sad, and deals with so many difficult and taboo subjects. Four friends graduate an elite college and begin their lives in NYC. Willem is a kind hearted aspiring actor. JB is a painter of Hatian descent.  Malcom is an architect from a biracial family, who still lives at home. Jude is a lawyer of unknown ethnicity. Though the narration is omniscient and we meet all the characters, the bulk of the focus falls on Jude. We’re first told of an “accident” when he was a child that wasn’t really an accident, but left him permanently disabled and in a lot of pain. Then we learn that the orphaned Jude has a tendency to cut himself. We also learn that he hates sex, and that he doesn’t believe that he deserves any of the devoted friends and family that he has. It’s some time before we learn the truth of Jude’s life before he met his friends at college. When we do learn about it, it’s more horrific than anything we imagined. Some reviewers called the book “melodrama” or even “torture porn”. But it doesn’t embrace the elements to shock the reader, but rather to access an emotional truth. When Jude finally tells a loved one the truth, this person tells him that it wasn’t his fault. He was a child. He was the victim of people who preyed on his innocence and desperation, and that none of what he experienced has made him unworthy of love. Jude struggles to believe that, and to live a good life- one that he has earned through his own hard work. He loves other people and he tries to let them love him in return. For most of us these things aren’t a struggle at all. But for Jude they are a constant battle. But there’s tremendous beauty in that effort.

51zpob-ijil-_ac_us218_6. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett- Frances Crawford of Lymond is a Scottish nobleman accused of deceit, treachery, treason, rape, and murder. He’s only guilty of a few of those things. He returns to Scotland in 1547 after several years in exile for reasons that won’t be revealed for some time. His own brother has vowed to kill him. But for rather complicated reasons, Lymond, accused of treason, may be the only person who can save his country from an English invasion.  I think the series is definitely worth reading (based on the first two books) but they’re not easy reads. We don’t really get inside the character’s thoughts much, so it’s often a while before we understand what’s going on and why.  The main character is a brilliantly educated polygot who often makes references that I don’t get right away. So it takes some effort to get into. Another author would have told us early on what’s happening, what Lymond is accused of and what accusations were false, where he’s been for the past few years and why he’d return to Scotland. In that case, the action of the book, would be front and center. The fact that Dunnett leaves the character’s motives so unknown makes this an interesting, sometimes confusing take on the historical fiction genre.

 

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_7. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber -In 1870’s London, Sugar is a prostitute in a brothel. Like many in her profession, she longs for a better life. William Rackham is a well-to-do businessman takes Sugar on as a mistress, and she’s draws herself into his life; his mentally fragile wife, Agnes; their deceitful housekeeper Clara, their mysterious daughter Sophie…. The characters aren’t easy to classify. Is Sugar a bad woman scheming to manipulate a wealthy man and get his money? Or is she a woman who was dealt a bad had, doing what she can to make her way in a world that’s not very kind?  At times the author suggests the answer to this question, but never outright answers it. But it’s not an easy read. At 922 pages it’s a long haul and we really see the ugly side of Victorian London, in a way that Dickens spared us.

51yxivihhl-_ac_us218_8. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas is an Oxford grad who takes a job as a teacher at a school on a remote Greek island. Over the summer, he becomes bored, depressed and lonely. Then he meets Maurice Conchis, a wealthy recluse who lives on the island.  Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’ psychological games. At first he sees these games as a sort of a joke. But as they grow more elaborate and intense, Nicholas reaches a point where he isn’t able to tell what’s real and what isn’t. The reader can’t tell either and it gets kind of trippy. Several portions of the book have a “what the heck was that?” quality to them. But that ambiguity is also what makes it interesting.

51656aeukhl-_ac_us218_9. East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood– Lady Isabel Carlyle leaves her husband an babies to elope with Frances Levison. She bears Levison’s illegitmate child before she realizes that he has no intention of marrying her. He deserts Isabel, who is then disfigured in a train accident, and her child is killed (because apparently bad things really do happen in threes!) Lady Isabel gets a job as a governess in the household of her former husband and his new wife. This allows her to be close to the children she abandoned. But the pressure of keeping up the facade becomes too much for her. I read this because I was interested in Victorian “sensation” novels. I enjoyed it, in spite of, and at times because of, its rather implausible plot. But it’s also tough going at times because of the various shifting and double identities.

414n0roja3l-_ac_us218_10. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard– This play shifts between modern day Sidley Park and the same locations in the early 19th century. In the past, Thomasina, the daughter of the house, and Septimus Hodge, her tutor. The present day story concerns Hannah and Bernard, two academic researchers investigating a scandal caused by Lord Byron when he stayed at Sidley Park. The two story lines interweave math, physics, literature, philosophy,  architecture, and philosophy. I was assigned to read this in the summer before I started college before my freshman seminar. It made me very nervous about not being smart enough for college, because I felt like a lot of it went right over my head! But when we started to go through it in class and analyze it, I realized how clever, funny, and enjoyable this really was.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Fathers

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 13: Father’s Day related Freebiefavorite dads in literature, best father/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your dad, worst dads in literature, etc. etc.

I wouldn’t give up my own father for the best of these guys. But they are pretty amazing. Just a few notes: I didn’t want to include Atticus Finch because he shows up on all of these lists. Also, I found it interesting that so many of these were adoptive rather than biological fathers. In many cases they do far more for their children than the children’s biological fathers ever did. It just goes to prove love makes a parent. Not biology.

  1. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- Early in the novel, ex-con Valjean turns away from a life of crime and tries to live as an honest man. But he only truly learns to love when he adopts the orphaned Cosette. He’s 110% devoted to her.
  2. Silas Marner in the novel of the same name by George Eliot- Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Silas Marner becomes curmudgeon and a miser. One night he finds a two year old girl wandering in the snow and adopts her. Little Eppie changes his life. He becomes more involved in the community, he makes friends and cares for her completely.
  3. Mathew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables– While his tough as nails sister, Marilla takes a while to warm up to the orphan Anne, Mathew loves her right away. He is the first person in her life to truly show her kindness, and he faces his fears to make her happy.
  4. Daniel LeBlanc in All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr-  Widowed father of a blind daughter, Daniel LeBlanc teaches his daughter, Marie-Laure to be independent by creating a scale model of their Paris neighborhood for her to memorize by touch. He also provides her with novels in Braille. When the Nazis invade Paris Daniel brings Marie to the coastal town of Saint-Malo, where he once again creates a model for her to learn her surroundings.
  5. James Fraser in the Outlander series– Over the course of 8 books (so far) fatherhood isn’t always kind to our hero. Unable to raise his biological children from childhood, Jamie still raises his fair share of kids, from the French pickpocket Fergus, to his nephew Young Ian. But when his biological children do enter his life later on, he proves that parenthood doesn’t end when one’s children are grown.
  6. Frank Gilbraith Sr in Cheapter By the Dozen by Frank B Gilbrath Jr and Ernastine Gilbraith Carey is an efficiency expert and father of twelve. He was rather eccentric, but his children’s book about him recalls a home full of children, laughter, warmth, and love.
  7. Pa Ingalles from the Little House series by Laura Ingalles Wilder is always present.  He had a major case of wanderlust but took his family along with them, giving them a view of life that few people did in the 19th century. He was able to go hunting and built a house but also taught his children to treat others with kindness and care and led by example.
  8. Horton from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss- When Mayzie the bird lays an egg but can’t be bothered to hatch it, Horton steps in.  In spite  of the absurdity of an elephant sitting on a bird’s egg, Horton refuses to abandon his charge.
  9. Dr. Wilbur Larch from The Cider House Rules by John Irving- Dr. Larch is the founder and director of the orphanage of St. Cloud. He gives all the children in his care his attention and affection, but he loves Homer Wells like a son. Even as Homer grows up and makes his own way in the world, he and Dr. Larch maintain a powerful bond.
  10. Ned Stark in Game of Thrones by George RR Martin- once he left the series I lost a lot of my interest in the story actually. Everything he did was for the safety and well being of his children. No principle had priority above their welfare

And a few of the worst literary fathers on my “dishonorable mention” list:

  • Harry Wormwood in Matilda– Harry is a duplicitous used car salesman, who believes that everything he needs to know he can learn from television. He is initially horrified that his daughter, Matilda, isn’t a boy. His horror is compounded when it becomes clear that she would rather read a book than watch TV. Otherwise doesn’t much care what she does.
  • Jack Torrance in The Shining– From the beginning of this book, Jack isn’t an example of paternal excellence. He’s an alcoholic who has a tendency toward violence when her drinks. But when he gets a job as the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, the now sober Jack, moves there with his wife and 5 year old son, Danny. As the ghosts of the Overlook invade his psyche Jack becomes increasingly unstable, until, finally, he ends up chasing his wife and Danny through the hotel with a croquet mallet.  But in his final moments he is able to wrench his mind free from the hotel’s destructive influence encourage Danny to escape. So perhaps, in spite of his many flaws, there was love at the bottom of it all.
  • Franklin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- I spoke about his wife, Eva as a notable, but deeply flawed fictional mother. But Franklin is just as flawed. His sin is denial. He can’t- or won’t- see that his son is anything less than wonderful. When his wife tries to make him see warning signs in Kevin’s behavior he turns a blind eye. He pays for this in a major way.
  • Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- It’s one of my favorite books, but Heathcliff is still a nasty piece of work. He marries for revenge after his true love marries another man. Then he takes his anger and sadness out on his sickly son. Nice.
  • Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- I know he has his fans, and that his wife has her own issues (discussed here) but there is a very serious issue facing his family that he completely disregards. He has five daughters who can’t legally inherit his property. That means that following his death they’ll be without resources. His wife is, understandably, concerned about this, and he mocks her for it. To make it worse, he mocks her in front of his daughters, thereby diminishing their respect for their mother.