Top Ten Tuesday: Characters That Remind Me of Me

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

May 7: Characters That Remind Me of Myself

I did something like this a while back, but I think I may be able to come up with a few other books….

91s0lx2enl._ac_ul436_1. Sonja in Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorothe Nors– Actually while in some ways I have a lot in common with Sonja (like a fear of driving!) in other ways we’re very different. But we are both single women, living and working in a big city and trying to stay connected: to our friends and our families and our lives in general. That effort, and the anxiety around it, as something I definitely related to hen reading this book.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_2. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– I’m definitely the bookish, sensible one in almost any group! I don’t make friends quickly or easily but when I do, I’m also fiercely loyal. I guess I can deal with some of the awkwardness involved in being like Hermione as long as I have some of her good qualities too.

 

811ptptqf4l._ac_ul436_3. Olivia Curtis in Invitation To the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann– I haven’t (yet) read The Weather in the Streets, which is this books sequel, so I don’t yet know what becomes of Olivia but at 17 she was much like me at that age: simultaneously eager for growth and change, and afraid of it. She’s very sensitive to the feelings of others, but often she projects her own thoughts and ideas onto them, without much basis. That’s something I also related to.

71-frikc1l._ac_ul436_4. Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith- Like me, Cassandra feels everything very deeply and she replays it for herself after the fact. Her musings on what she should have said/done in different situations definitely rang true, as does her dedication to try to capture something real and concrete, even as things seem to slip through her fingers.

51mssp4enl._ac_ul436_5. Margaret Schlegel in Howard’s End  by EM Forester– She’s practical but she still has high ideals that she holds dear. She’s imaginative and loving.  She is very much the caretaker for her family and she embraces the role, she doesn’t resent it. Obviously her circumstances are very different to mind, but I’ve always found her an admirable, classy character.

 

31yhicomrpl-_ac_us218_6. Miss Pettigrew in Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day by Winifred Watson– I’m not as bad as Miss Pettigrew but I definitely have a tendency to be a bit of a straitlaced wallflower. That’s why I try to keep company with the Delysia LaFosses of the world: I would wouldn’t want to only live for a day, and they remind me that there’s a whole world out there.

 

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_7. The Second Mrs. DeWinter from Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– I can definitely understand what it’s like to feel like you can never live up to some ideal- regardless of how real that actually ideal actually is. I think I’m definitely stronger than this character but she speaks to many of my insecurities and the fear of not being good enough.

 

51z5jz2frjl-_ac_us218_8. Peter Pan from Peter Pan by JM Barrie– Again this isn’t a literal “OMG we have so much in common! Who could possibly tell us apart?” connection. Rather it’s a sense of recognition and sympathy.  When I was a kid I never wanted to grow up either. Adulthood looked like it was difficult, boring, expensive and exhausting. But unlike Peter, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. In some ways I am grateful for the wisdom that’s come with age, and the things I’m able to do now that I couldn’t as a child. But I sometimes have a wish for some pixie dust and a chance to run off to Never Neverland…

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Friendships

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

November 27: Platonic Relationships In Books (friendships, parent/child, siblings, family, etc.)

For this one I decided to go with friendships. Sometimes the friendships in question are between siblings, but there’s always a strong basis in affection as opposed to just familial bonds. It’s also OK if two characters within a group are in a romantic relationships as long as the group itself is held together by platonic bonds.

511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_1. The March Sisters in Little Women– Yes they’re sisters. And that holds them together even when they grow apart in other ways. But the March’s bond is built on a foundation of confiding in one another, having shared memories and experiences and being there to support one another when things go wrong. All those are things that exist among groups of friends, whether or not they share the same blood.

 

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_2. Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in the Anne series by LM Mongomery- Anne and Diana are kindred spirits, bosom friends pretty much from day one. You can only get drunk on cherry cordial with a bestie. When you share something sweet with a bosom friend it tastes even sweeter because you shared it.  A best friend like this stands by you even when you’re not using your best judgement, and helps to pick up the pieces when you fall. Yes, I’ve read some contemporary criticism that claims this was more than platonic friendship. But on a purely textual level they’re simply BFFs through thick and thin.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_3. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I was probably one of the few readers who was relieved to see Hermione end up with Ron, without even a hint of a romance with Harry. As Harry tells Ron in The Deathly Hallows “She’s like my sister.” These three befriended each other early in the series and proved that together they were a formidable trio. Yes, Ron and Hermione hooked up eventually but they were friends first and since there was nothing going on at any point between Harry and Hermione or Harry and Ron, they qualify for the list.

51h6recpxtl-_ac_us218_4. The narrator and Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving- The unnamed narrator has nothing but love for his best friend Owen Meany and their friendship survives a turbulent childhood in which Owen accidentally kills the narrator’s mother (oops!). Owen weights less than 100 lbs and is less than five feet tall when he’s fully grown. He has a screechy, strangled voice. He’s also kind, honest, selfless, and rebellious.  He comes into the narrator’s life early on and his influence is felt to the point where the rest of the narrator’s life is lived as a prayer for this childhood friend.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_5. Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm in A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara- These four friends met in college. Over the next few decades there are fallings out and other friendships that come into and out of their lives, but these four are there for one another through it all. In this case the biggest threats to the group don’t really come from the action of the novel, but from the character’s  haunted pasts. Once again there’s some romance in the group, as Jude and Willem eventually become a couple, but their relationship started as friendship only and existed as friendship for two decades before becoming romantic. Since there are no other couples within the group at any point, it qualifies for my list.

41haymrzhdl-_ac_us218_6. Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar in Shirley by Charlotte Bronte- Caroline’s father died and her mother abandoned her, and she was raised by an uncle. Shirley is also an orphan, but she’s wealthy, and cheerful and full of ideas. The become good friends and get involved in  a labor dispute at the local mill. They also learn some family secrets and become romantically involved with two brothers. There’s confusion and revelations in the plot, but even at a point when it seems like Caroline and Shirley are being set up to be romantic rivals, they maintain a friendship. In fact while the book deals with a number of topics I consider the primary plot to be a story of friendship.

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_7. Mary, Dickon, and Colin from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett- As a child the fact that the garden was a metaphor for the friendship that blooms between these three characters, went totally over my head.  Fortunately I reread it later on. Well, actually now that I think of it, the garden is a metaphor for several things in that book, but one of them is the friendship forms among these three very different children from vastly different backgrounds.

41uqpdzu9hl-_ac_us218_8. George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck- George and Lenny are two migrant workers during the Great Depression who dream of a little bit of land and a home to call their own. Lenny is a large man with a child’s mind and George is his protector. But when Lenny’s love of soft things leads to tragedy, George shows the kind of loyalty that the best of friends share,  in the most terrible way possible.

 

51e3moi918l-_ac_us218_9. Jane and Prudence in Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym- Jane is a forty one year old Vicar’s wife, with a daughter, who lives a very proper parish life. Prudence is a twenty nine year old spinster who lives in London and is fiercely independent. Jane was Prudence’s tutor at Oxford and despite their different lives, they’ve maintained a friendship. Jane decides that local widower, Fabian, would be a perfect match for Prudence, but Prudence is interested in her (married) boss. Neither character is particularly likable but as I finished reading the book I felt like I would miss them and their friendship.

51kwpr263l-_ac_us218_10. Julie, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash and Goodman in The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer-  Julie, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash, and her brother Goodman meet at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s and dub themselves “The Interestings.” Over the next few decades the group comes together and breaks apart in various ways. Their dynamics change and change again. Ethan and Ash marry but that’s really the only romantic relationship within the group.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books To Break A Slump

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Unpopular Literary Opinions

  • 41rryji1bvl-_ac_us218_A lot of contemporary interpretations of Romeo and Juliet misunderstand the play completely.
    • If they don’t believe in love at first sight, they dismiss they entire play. OK, Macbeth opens with witches. Hamlet meets a ghost. Do you say “witches/ghosts don’t exist, so clearly this play offers nothing of value”?  Why should love, at first sight, be any different?
    • They say Romeo is fickle because he thought he was in love with another girl prior to meeting Juliet. But if you look at the poetry, Romeo’s language, once he meets Juliet, becomes more sophisticated. This indicates that it’s the real thing. So why include that other girl at all? Well, it’s Shakespeare telling us that this isn’t a childish infatuation because Romeo’s had that and it looked different.
    • They claim that Romeo and Juliet were two immature teens who didn’t really understand love or life. IRL, of course, a couple in their early teens wouldn’t understand true love. But for the sake of the play, we need to accept that this is a “perfect” love. It’s meant to be. Then we see the tragedy of what happens to a perfect love in a world filled with hate.
  • 511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_In Little Women Jo made the right romantic choices. She and Laurie would have been a disaster as a couple. They’re way too similar in terms of personality and they’d have clashed all the time. Jo also had a deep love for her family and defined herself in terms of her sisters. Laurie also loved her family, and saw Jo as sort of the “Lead March Sister.” In other words, the way he saw her was exactly the way she saw herself. He didn’t challenge her perceptions at all. Bhaer knew and cared for Jo independent of her family.
  • 51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_Wuthering Heights is not a romance. A love story, perhaps, but not a romance. And really it’s just as much a “hate story” as it is a “love story.” Even with the two characters who get a happy romantic ending, we’re ultimately left wondering if it was worth it. Lowood observes Cathy and Hareton together and grumbles “‘They are afraid of nothing…Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions.'” Then he walks back and in the churchyard sees “the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.” The implication is that the price of Cathy and Hareton’s happiness is those three graves.
  • I think of John Green as a YA version of Nicholas Sparks. Which is fine if you like that, but I don’t really. I like his vlogs and persona but I feel like as a writer he doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.
  • 51xipv5h1l-_ac_us218_I actually think that Go Set A Watchman enriched To Kill A Mockingbird and the characters. I much prefer to see Atticus Finch as a flawed human being rather than a perfect white savior. It makes sense that as a child, Scout perceives her father as a hero. And it makes sense that as an adult she’s able to see him as he is: a person with strengths and weaknesses and prejudices. It also makes sense for Atticus’ racism to come out in the way that it does. When an innocent man is accused of a crime that he didn’t commit, Atticus defends him, because a) it’s his job and b) people shouldn’t be held responsible for things that they didn’t do. But twenty years later, when civil rights are becoming a major issue, it seems believable that Atticus, who grew up in a segregated world where the power was squarely in the laps of white males, might begin to feel threatened. He fears to lose the privilege that’s been his all his life.
  • I like the Ron/Hermione pairing in Harry Potter. They’ve got the whole opposites attract thing going for them. They balance each other out. But I always felt like the Ginny/Harry pairing was just so that Harry wasn’t left romantically alone at the end of the series.51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_
  • 41rrzplmctl-_ac_us218_Rupi Kaur has yet to really impress me as a poet. I know a lot of people find her really relatable and I don’t want to diminish that. I think it’s wonderful when people have that response to something, even if I don’t share it. Especially since I can see why they relate to it. A lot of the themes that Kaur addresses in her work are universal. But I feel that, with a few exceptions, she doesn’t address them in an innovative or artful, or skillful way. My problem was that there is enough potential in the work for me to wish it was better.
  • I don’t particularly care for Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. I know that a literary detective in a futuristic world who goes inside books sounds like it should be right up my alley. I tried the first three books in the series but they just left me cold.
  • Stephen King is underrated from a literary point of view. He’s seen as a purely commercial writer. Yes, he’s written his share of trash, but when he gets it right, he really touches on our societies secrets, fears, and shame.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Lived Up To The Hype

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

July 31: Popular Books that Lived Up to the Hype

When a book is really hyped I tend to get nervous. There have been many times when a book resonates with the public a lot and just falls flat for me (Think Twilight, The Notebook, The DaVinci Code…).  But that said, these lived up to the acclaim

51-eyayn0ol-_ac_us218_1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– When this book came out it got a lot of praise, but I think that my expectations going into it were still low. I expected it to be overhyped. I was pleasantly surprised for the most part. Yes, there were some elements of the plot that didn’t completely work for me, but I found the writing lovely and the atmosphere wonderful.

 

51lsfidqpl-_ac_us218_2. Room by Emma Donoghue– Fortunately I read this pre-hype, not long after it was released. I think I read the whole thing in about a day because I couldn’t put it down! Not long after that, it started getting a lot of acclaim, which I felt like it deserved.

 

 

 

41qxofoqbxl-_ac_us218_3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Hadden– I forget what made me read this book. I was in college at the time and in my own little campus bubble, so I wasn’t all that aware of the hype around it. But that allowed me to come to it fresh and appreciate it for its own merits.

 

 

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_4. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I was skeptical of this one for a while. It had been popular for a while before I read it. I think I initially held off based on my general aversion to popular things. But the thing that made decide to pick it up was when I heard it was an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

 

 

51muf7bj-ll-_ac_us218_5. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– Several people had recommended this to me before I finally picked it up. I had low expectations in spite of the hype because I tend to be fussy about fantasy as a genre and the fact that it was very long made be a bit wary. It was also compared to a few books that I didn’t really enjoy. But I was pleasantly surprised.

 

51xipv5h1l-_ac_us218_6. Go Tell A Watchman by Harper Lee– I’m probably one of the few people who did feel like this was worth the hype. Maybe it was a greedy move by the publisher but I found it an interesting companion piece to To Kill A Mockingbird. I think they way that Atticus was depicted makes sense. A lot of people’s racism comes out when they see a marginalized group leaving the niche that they once had, and becoming part of the mainstream discourse. And Scout’s awareness of her father’s racism also made sense because as an adult, she’s able to see him as a fallible human being rather than a hero.

51q2yi-diil-_ac_us218_7. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin– My biggest problem with this books was the way it was structured. It’s about four siblings who are told the date of their deaths by a fortune teller. The rest of the book is divided into four parts: one per each child. The problem was that the first two parts were by far the most interesting! But in spite of that, I liked the way the book suggested that the deaths of some of these characters were a self-fulfilling prophecy.

51dvs6wngbl-_ac_us218_8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak– By the time I got around to reading this one, it had been praised very highly. I was sort of expecting it to be the kind of emotionally manipulative thing that I often resent. But instead, it was poignant and heartbreaking.

 

 

51ozv7qacul-_sx260_9. Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon– I started reading this series in college. I’d seen it recommended in a lot of places, for fans of other books that I’ve enjoyed, but I was always a bit skeptical. One of my friends in college said that I’d like it, so I finally decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did!

 

 

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_10. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– I think the first Harry Potter book came out when I was a pre-teen, but I didn’t read it then. I actually held off on the series until college, based on the logic that something that popular had to be total crap. But I finally decided to give it a shot and was surprised to learn that popular books can (sometimes!) be good.

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Worlds Where You’d Like to Live (Or Visit)

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

May 29: Bookish Worlds I’d Want to/Never Want to Live In

I decided to go with worlds I’d actually want to live in, since places, where I wouldn’t want to live, seems a bit too easy. Pretty much any dystopia qualifies (and a few are uncomfortably similar to the world I actually live in…) These all have drawbacks of course, but I could be happy in most of these places. Granted, I’d rather visit most of them, than live there.

51-eyayn0ol-_ac_us218_1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern-

“They are enthusiasts, devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent. They seek each other out, these people of such specific like mind. They tell of how they found the circus, how those first few steps were like magic. Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars… When they depart, they shake hands and embrace like old friends, even if they have only just met, and as they go their separate ways they feel less alone than they had before.”

51z5jz2frjl-_ac_us218_2. Peter Pan by JM Barrie

“I don’t know if you have ever seem a map of a person’s mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island; for the Neverland is always more or less and island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose.”

41fxwtlwool-_ac_us218_3. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum– Note that I said Baum’s Oz, not Gregory Maguire’s!

“The cyclone had set the house down gently, very gently – for a cyclone—in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty. There were lovely patches of green sward all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and birds with rare and brilliant plumage sang and fluttered in the trees and bushes. A little way off was a small brook, rushing and sparkling along between green banks, and murmuring in a voice very grateful to a little girl who had lived so long on the dry, gray prairies.”

4. Prince Edward Island in most of LM Montgomery’s work.

“It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.”

Anne of Green Gables

“It was a lovely afternoon – such an afternoon as only September can produce when summer has stolen back for one more day of dream and glamour.”

-Emily Climbs

“But now she loved winter. Winter was beautiful “up back” – almost intolerably beautiful. Days of clear brilliance. Evenings that were like cups of glamour – the purest vintage of winter’s wine. Nights with their fire of stars. Cold, exquisite winter sunrises. Lovely ferns of ice all over the windows of the Blue Castle. Moonlight on birches in a silver thaw. Ragged shadows on windy evenings – torn, twisted, fantastic shadows. Great silences, austere and searching. Jewelled, barbaric hills. The sun suddenly breaking through grey clouds over long, white Mistawis. Ice-grey twilights, broken by snow-squalls, when their cosy living-room, with its goblins of firelight and inscrutable cats, seemed cosier than ever. Every hour brought a new revalation and wonder.”

The Blue Castle

51iswycraxl-_ac_us218_5. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

“She stood for a moment looking out at a slowly moving view of the hills, watching heather slide past underneath the door, feeling the wind blow her wispy hair, and listening to the rumble and grind of the big black stones as the castle moved.”

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_6. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling -Note I’d want to visit her wizarding world minus the Death Eaters

She pulled the door wide. The Entrance Hall was so big you could have fitted the whole of the Dursleys’ house in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches like the ones at Gringotts, the ceiling was too high to make out, and a magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

7. Garden Spells and First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen- Bascomb NC

“Business was doing well, because all the locals knew that dishes made from the flowers that grew around the apple tree in the Waverley garden could affect the eater in curious ways. The biscuits with lilac jelly, the lavender tea cookies, and the tea cakes made with nasturtium mayonnaise the Ladies Aid ordered for their meetings once a month gave them the ability to keep secrets. The fried dandelion buds over marigold-petal rice, stuffed pumpkin blossoms, and rose-hip soup ensured that your company would notice only the beauty of your home and never the flaws. Anise hyssop honey butter on toast, angelica candy, and cupcakes with crystallized pansies made children thoughtful. Honeysuckle wine served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark. The nutty flavor of the dip made from hyacinth bulbs made you feel moody and think of the past, and the salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen, whether it was true or not.”

Garden Spells

“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white apple blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were all okay, grateful to have gotten through it.”

First Frost

61kl8q74sml-_ac_us218_8. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff– Templeton NY

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

41ay0z5uell-_ac_us218_9. There’s No Place Like Here by Cecilia Ahearn

“I should have been afraid, walking through a mountainside in the dark by myself. Instead, I felt safe, surrounded by the songs of birds, engulfed by the scents of sweet moss and pine, and cocooned in a mist that contained a little bit of magic.”

 

41mbxlnvcll-_ac_us218_10. Griffin and Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantcock

“I could see sunlight making exquisite patterns on the water’s surface above me. Everything seemed fascinating and very slow. All around me lionfish darted like golden suns and moons in an alchemists’s dream. I looked down to where a vast labyrinth of black seaweed awaited me.” – Sabine’s Notebook

25 Bookish Facts About Me

I saw this on someone else’s blog and decided to copy it, because why not? Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery after all.

books-bookstore-book-reading-159711.jpeg1. I don’t like ebooks. I mean I’ll read them when they’re free, or really cheap, but they feel less like they’re mine. I’ll actually feel less like I’ve read a book if I read it in ebook form. If I love a book that I’ve read as an ebook I have to buy a physical copy.

2. I hate it when publishers change the size/shape/design of book series mid-series. I’ve actually re-purchased certain books so that they’re all consistent. Which probably doesn’t go a long way toward discouraging publishers who want to make money…

3. I can’t stand when publishers release box sets of series that haven’t been completed yet. I remember seeing a lot of box sets of Harry Potter 1-6 just before the 7th book came out. Why would anyone buy a six-book set of a series they know will be seven books? Then you’ll be stuck with a lovely box set, and an odd book out!

3. I hate movie tie-in editions. Even if I like the movie poster, it doesn’t belong on the book.

4. If I enjoy a film adaptation of a book before reading the book, I’ll still read the book, but I’ll worry about not coming to it “fresh”. I never worry about going into movies fresh though.

5. I’ve never really embraced audiobooks. I don’t dislike them, I just don’t usually opt for that format.

6. Reading in a car, train, bus or other moving vehicle doesn’t give me motion sickness. I tend to do a lot of reading while traveling.

7. I always have a book in my purse. If the book I’m reading doesn’t fit, I have a back up “Bag Book”. I dread the thought of being stranded somewhere bookless.

8. I dog-ear pages. I know, I know, it’s one of the worst bibliophile sins…

9. I love used books. I feel like I’m getting someone else’s history with the book.

10. When I was about nine years old I got the chicken pox on the same day that Ann M. Martin (of The Baby-Sitter’s Club) was doing a signing at a nearby bookstore. I didn’t show my mom the first pock marks until after the signing so that I wouldn’t have to miss it.

11. I had about a million fairy tale anthologies as a kid. I liked to compare and contrast the different tellings (as in, “the Grimm version is  much scarier than the French version…) I was about four or five when I was into this. I was a weird kid.

12. A book has to be pretty bad for me not to finish it. Usually, my craving for closure is such that I’ll endure a boring read in order to have it.

13. I’m a conflicted re-reader. There are so many books that I want to revisit, but I’m afraid that they won’t hold up. And there are so many books out there that I haven’t read yet. Can I justify spending more time on the ones that I have read?

14. There is no genre that I absolutely won’t read. There are some genres that I tend to dislike, but I’m always willing to make an exception for a great book.

15. Books actually, physically feel different to me once I’ve read them. It’s hard to explain how. They feel weightier.

16. I currently own 19 books that I haven’t read yet. That’s actually not too bad for me!

17. I almost never read a book immediately after it’s released. There are a few exceptions to that though.

18. I tend to read most in the evenings before I go to bed. Of course, this is dangerous, because a really good book will keep me awake with Just One More Chapter Syndrome.

19. I come from a long line of compulsive readers. My grandparents were all avid readers, my mom was a literature major in college and is interested in most things, and I struggle to remember moments of my childhood when my dad didn’t have a book in his hand.

20. Literary Characters Who I Wanted To Be As A Kid: Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Pippi from Pippi Longstocking, Jo from Little Women, Anne from Anne of Green Gables, and pretty much every princess in a fairy tale.

21. I don’t oppose writing/underlining in books, but unless I’ve never been one to do that unless I was reading something for school.

22. I didn’t read Harry Potter until college. For years I stayed away based on the “if it’s popular I probably won’t like it,” mentality.

23. I don’t feel guilty about reading “guilty pleasures” but if I’m reading in public I prefer to read something serious or literary. That way complete strangers might think I’m smart.

24. Authors I’ve Met: Amy Hest, Toni De Palma, Libba Bray, Mary Jane Clark, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Edmund White, Peter Straub, Jennifer Weiner, Kate Forsyth, Nova Ren Suma, Gail Carson Levine, Paul Watkins, Bradford Morrow, Peter Sourian. Most of these were 1-2 sentence meetings but a few were people with whom I had actual discussions and/or took classes.

25. I’ve wanted to write books for pretty much my entire life.

 

Is This Book For Me? Reading Outside Your Demo

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The Adult Reading YA Controversy

It’s no secret that people who aren’t teens read books marketed as YA. According to a 2012 Publishers Weekly study, 55% of YA books are bought by adults. Yes, they could be buying books for their kids. But the largest group of YA buyers, 28% of those buyers are between the ages of 30 and 44. Is it possible for a thirty-something to have a teenage child? Yes. Is it likely? Not according to recent data which shows that in the US the average age of a first-time mother is 26. Around other parts of the YA buying world, it’s closer to 30. Meaning that people in the 30-44-year-old range are more likely to have a young child than a teen.

So let’s assume that adults are buying YA for themselves and reading it. Is that good? Should they be embarrassed? Opinions differ. In 2014, Ruth Graham wrote for Slate that “Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.” Her reasoning for this opinion is ” It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults.”  That’s a big assumption to make. Unless the author of the books writes a forward demanding readers do just that, it’s not possible to be sure that that was the intention. Do some adults read these books from the perspective of a teenager? Perhaps. Do some read it from the perspective of someone who was in that frame of mind once but isn’t any longer? That’s equally likely. I imagine that for most people it’s a combination of the two. I usually fall somewhere along that spectrum, but in different places depending on the book.

Graham also asserts that  “mature readers also find satisfaction of a more intricate kind in stories that confound and discomfit, and in reading about people with whom they can’t empathize at all” OK. Is that to say that teens can’t find satisfaction in ambiguity? Or that YA only features “likable” characters? I’d say no. Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable, for example, is told from the perspective of an accused rapist. The main character is not a textbook villain though. He doesn’t understand that what he did actually qualifies as rape. I imagine most readers of the book condemn his actions and believe that he should face consequences for them. Yet some might feel sympathy for a teenage boy, caught up in a situation he doesn’t completely understand. That doesn’t condone what he did at all. It simply complicates the reader’s feelings about what happens in the book. Different readers might close the book and have different opinions about what consequences the character should face. Or look at a more classic example. In The Outsiders, one character has a tragic ending that is framed as the lesser of two evils. The other survives and offers a vision of his life that involves making the right decision. Is this an optimistic ending? Pessimistic? It depends on which the reader feels a stronger emotional connection to.

After Graham’s article came out, a lot of YA readers and writers refuted it. In doing so many tackled that question of what “literature” is. But I am more curious right now about what categories such as “children”, “middle grade”, “YA”, and New Adult” actually mean.

Author Kate Axelrod wrote an essay about her novel, intended for adults, being marketed as YA. The Law of Loving Others is a novel about the toll that mental illness takes on a family. Because it featured a teen protagonist, most editors wanted to market it as YA. Axelrod resisted but eventually decided to sell the book to Penguin’s Razorbill imprint. The novel was eventually published in 2015 and didn’t attract much critical attention. That translated to lackluster sales. According to most readers and reviewers, the book wasn’t really a YA novel. It was an adult novel featuring teen characters. Adults who didn’t gravitate toward YA weren’t interested. Why?

And what makes something “not YA”? After all, there are many books that are successfully marketed to a YA audience that deal with dark, complicated themes including mental illness, suicide, violence, racism, drugs, and abuse. Look at the success of novels like 13 Reasons Why or The Hate U Give. These have achieved a crossover success with both adult and teen readers. Why were they able to do so, while Axelrod’s novel wasn’t? I could see JD Salinger or Harper Lee being told that The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird needed to be marketed as YA, using the same logic.

Also, why wasn’t Axelrod’s novel able to be marketed as adult fiction? A lot of contemporary adult fiction features teenage protagonists. Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep was successfully marketed to an adult audience in spite of the fact that it was a coming of age story that took place at a New England prep school. Donna Tartt is consistently referred to as a writer of adult, literary fiction. However, her debut, The Secret History was set in college, and featured characters that were students. Her follow up, The Little Friend, features a twelve-year-old protagonist, and her Pulitzer Prize winner, The Goldfinch follows the main character from the age of thirteen through his early adulthood.

What’s the takeaway? Should we ignore all of these categories completely? Would that help people find books that resonate with them, or would it simply overwhelm them? People like to classify and categorize. It serves several purposes. Without these categories, choices can be too much. Imagine walking into a bookstore that was just organized by authors name. Fiction, nonfiction, children’s books etc were all jumbled up. A lot of people might just get frustrated and walk out. These categories also help draw in readers. Someone who reads a middle-grade book that s/he just loves may be more likely to seek out other books marketed to that audience, regardless of their age.

Is Children Reading YA A Problem?

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It’s also tricky when considering younger readers because not all content is appropriate for children of all ages. Childhood is a period of significant growth and development. The changes that one undergoes between the ages of 8 and 18 are enormous, whereas someone who is 50 may still be much the same ten years later. As a result it’s hard to tell what’s appropriate for whom.

Even within YA, there is a lot of variation. Traditionally, YA is aimed at a 13-18-year-old readership. While an 18-year-old might be ready for something like Judy Blume’s Forever, it might not be appropriate for every 13 year old. Having a single category that covers an age range in which a lot of maturing happens is tricky.

Or look at Middle Grade which is aimed at an 8-12-year-old readership. An 8-year-old might be a bit young for some darker/scarier MG books like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or The Girl Who Could Fly,  but a 12-year-old might find that same content exciting, suspenseful and compelling.

There’s no easy way for parents and educators to know if a certain book is appropriate for a certain child. Especially since no two children are alike. One 12 year old might be ready for YA while another one might be comfortably reading MG. For that reason, I think it’s essential that parents and teachers know their children and have at least some familiarity with the books in question.

Do you agree? Disagree? Do you like reading books that are “for” a demographic into which you don’t fit?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Could Re-read Forever

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

February 27: Books I Could Re-read Forever

I’m usually not a huge re-reader. I have a whole list of books that want to re-read, but my TBR so big that I rarely spend time on stuff I’ve already read. But even so, there are some books that I’ve revisited over the years. A lot of them tend to be books I read at some point during my childhood, because I was more of a rereader then. But making this list has definitely inspired me to do more re-reads!

51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- I wrote a bit about my journey with this book a while back. I read it for the first time in high school and was sort of shocked by the disparity between its reputation as a tragic romance, and the actual content of the book. I felt like the various narrative frames kept me at a distance and that there was some kind of elusive content that I was just missing. Those very qualities have made it an interesting re-read. I understand it differently each time I read it. At different points, it’s Freudian, feminist, sadomasochistic, gothic, and subversive.

51fkpmqzdyl-_ac_us218_2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- The first time I read this, also in high school, I loved it. I thought it was a lovely romance with a happy ending and a heroine I could root for. When I re-read it in college I realized that while it was all those things, it was also a lot more. There was a subtext that I’d completely missed on my first read through; regarding colonialism, gender relations, religion, morality, and autonomy. There were parallels that had gone over my head the first time. For example, Jane and Bertha are presented as two sides of the same coin. Jane is depicted as impulsive, willful and even violent as a child (see her behavior with the Reeds, the red room etc) she eventually masters these traits in a way that Bertha isn’t able to.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_3. The work of LM Montgomery- Maybe this is cheating but I can’t pick just one book here. As I kid I wanted to be Anne Shirley. As a slightly older kid, I wanted to be Emily Starr. As a teen, I discovered The Blue Castle for the first time. They’re all books that I find myself wanting to revisit at different points. There’s something comforting about them.Maybe it’s the landscape of Prince Edward Island that I’m attracted to, or maybe the smart female characters appeal to me.  Maybe I like different things at different points.

51ozv7qacul-_sx260_4. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon- The first time reading through this series I read for plot. They’re pretty densely plotted books, and because I was invested in the characters I wanted to see what happened to them. I’ve re-read parts now that the TV series is airing and I’m sort of shocked at how much I missed on those initial read thoughts. A lot of character development happened that I wasn’t aware of because I was focused elsewhere! I missed a lot of subtle cues, foreshadowing, and even sub-plots. I suppose that there’s only so much you can focus on in one read through.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_5. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I suppose in this way I’m a true product of my generation. I haven’t read them all the way through multiple times though. Like the Outlander series, my re-reads have been in bits and pieces. I’ve read parts of several later books more times that several earlier books, for example, though as I read later books I revisited earlier ones to refresh my memory of what happened. It seems to be the later four books or so that I’ve revisited the most. Maybe that’s because there was more happening in them than in the first three.

51srrilel-_ac_us218_6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- The first time I read this, I was obsessed with Jo. I wanted to be Jo. I still love her, but on later read-throughs, I focused on the journeys of the other characters. For example, it’s easy to overlook Meg and Beth the first time through. They’re not as attention-grabbing as Jo and Amy. I definitely dismissed them as “the boring one” and “the tragic one” until I re-read it and realized that they were just as compelling in their own ways as Jo and Amy were.

51uvxo85zl-_ac_us218_7. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell- This may be cheating because I haven’t reread it in a long time, but there was a point in my childhood where I would read this book, finish it, and then just start reading again! I should probably reread it at some point if only to understand why I was so obsessed with it at one point. Maybe the isolation of the main character appealed to me. Maybe it was the fact that she bravely faced a situation that would probably leave me a quivering lump of fear. Maybe it’s the fact that her ordeal didn’t end when she was “rescued”. It could have been the fact that this is based on a true story. Or it could be that different things appealed to me different times.

511prxozevl-_ac_us218_8. Here’s to You Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume- When I was about ten or eleven I was obsessed with this book. Maybe it was the main character who appealed to me. Maybe it was the dynamic between her and her family and her friends. Or maybe it was Jeremy Dragon, who was my first book boyfriend. In retrospect, I don’t even know why he appealed to me as much as he did. He wasn’t even a major character. But I suppose the element of wish fulfillment in a guy you have a crush on actually liking you, was something that appealed to me at the time.

614tt378kel-_ac_us218_9. The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson- I’m not sure how old I was the first time I read this book. Maybe nine or ten? Like in Harry Potter, this book features a platform at King’s Cross Station in London, which leads to a magical world. But this platform only opens once every nine years, so when the prince of this magical world is stolen, the magical creatures have nine years to plan the rescue. Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything actually goes according to plan. I think that along with Harry Potter this appealed to the part of me that longed for something magic hidden alongside the mundane.

51cbwb1nmql-_ac_us218_10. Fairy Tales– I know that this is more of a genre/category than a book, but fairy tales were like a religious experience for me as a kid. I would read them compulsively. Before I could read myself, I had others read them to me over and over again. I sought out different versions of fairy tales. I was possibly the only four year old who could explain how the Disney version of Snow White differed from the Brother’s Grimm! Even now, fairy tales inspire a lot of my own writing.

 

My Bookish Identity Tag

My Bookish Identity

I was tagged by The Orang-utan Librarian the other day. So here is some info about my Bookish Identity.

  • What dystopian/fantastical world would you live in?
  • Who would your partner be?
  • Who would be your godly mother/father? [Percy Jackson]
  • Would you be a downworlder or nephilim? [Shadowhunter world]
  • Which house would you be in? [Harry Potter]
  • Which faction would you be in? [Divergent]
  • What would be your daemon [Northern Lights]

WHAT DYSTOPIAN/FANTASTICAL WORLD WOULD YOU LIVE IN?

I don’t think that I’d want to live in a dystopian world! Sometimes this world seems frighteningly close! But as far as fantastical…. I could go for the world of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It’s strange and dreamy, and doesn’t seem like it’s ever boring!

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WHO WOULD YOUR PARTNER BE?

I suppose that depends on what kind of partner we’re talking about! Romantic partner? Business partner? Partner in crime? I think that Jamie Fraser in the Outlander series might actually do well as all three. He’s eternally devoted to his one true love, but he’s also a really smart, strategic thinker (when his emotions aren’t clouding his judgement).  He’s good at math, which could be useful in a business partner. Especially since I’m…not! Plus, he’s good at getting himself out of a tight spot, which would be useful for a partner in crime. Plus he’s tall and can reach things that are up high.

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WHO WOULD BE YOUR GODLY MOTHER/FATHER? [PERCY JACKSON]

I had to google this one since I haven’t read Percy Jackson. I took a quiz here and I am apparently a child of Demeter goddess of agriculture, grain, and bread. I don’t know if that makes me Persephone or just her sister…

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WOULD YOU BE A DOWNWORLDER OR A NEPHILIM [SHADOWHUNTER WORLD]

I’d probably be a Nephilim. I’m pretty firmly on the side of good. Not that there aren’t some shady Nephilim! But between that and a Downworlder I’m definitely Nephilim. (Just a note, I read the first 3 Shadowhunters books and that’s pretty much it. So if there are things we learn later that make this not applicable let me know!)

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WHICH HOUSE WOULD YOU BE IN? [HARRY POTTER]

Ravenclaw. I was definitely a “brain” in school. By that I mean that I was always reading, and always the really obnoxious kid with her hand raised to answer every question (regardless of whether or not I was right!). I love to read. I love to learn. I’m creative. I think the sorting hat would be pretty definitive.

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WHAT FACTION WOULD YOU BE IN? [DIVERGENT]

I think I have elements of all the factions in me. But I suppose that most of us do! I guess that Amity is the one I’d be most drawn to. I’m pretty peaceful. I try to be kind to everyone. I am very loyal to my friends, and I’m pretty forgiving.

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WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DAEMON? [NORTHERN LIGHTS]

This is a tough one. I actually had to do another quiz, because there are so many options! This is what I got.

You are someone who lives in the present and you care deeply about your friends, whom you consider to be your sisters and brothers. You know how to enjoy life. But if anything threatens your future or that of those you love, you will always be the first person to fight for it.

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Actually it’s probably pretty accurate.

I tag Emma, Caitlin Stern, Jessica, Cam, and  Holly.