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 throughs. 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- This is actually a book I wish I’d read for the first time when I was younger.  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!

tumblr_static_tumblr_mrqu03jpxm1r7mjfxo5_250

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.

Outlander Season 3 2017

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…

god-demeter

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!)

vf_rune2c_angelic_1

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.

tumblr_ls9lkxuqyt1qaf7tj

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.

6727083_orig

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.

canadageesemoffitiml

Actually it’s probably pretty accurate.

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want My Future Kids to Read

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

November 14: Top Ten Books I Want My Future Children to Read (Or nieces and nephews, Godchildren, etc.)

Well, I don’t have children. In theory I’d like one or two someday, but we’ll see. I’m not ambivalent, so much as overwhelmed at the enormity of a parent’s job! But I do love kids. I have students. I’d want them to read these. I’d want any future godchildren I might have to read these. And if I do have children I hope they read them too! Books have contributed so much to making me the person that I am. I think that these had really positive impacts.

51igzsbi-ul-_ac_us218_1. Matilda by Roald Dahl– As a kid, I liked this book because it was funny. I still like it for that reason, but I see more to it now. Matilda Wormwood is a character whose identity was largely formed by what she’s read. I believe that this gave her a strong sense of justice. Matilda hates a bully, and she’s surrounded by them. But while many children with abusive adults in their lives grow up to be abusers themselves, I don’t see this as Matilda’s fate. Her avid reading gave her a sense of the world. Her intelligence allowed her to understand the implications of what she read. The combination gave her a sense of right and wrong (certainly she’d never have gotten that from her parents!) and fueled her to become a person who doesn’t stand idly by while people are suffering. I think that’s an important lesson for any child.

So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.

61bwr8sfvhl-_ac_us218_2. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards– I remember reading the “about the author” page of this, and being shocked and delighted that it was indeed written by that Julie Andrews! But Oscar/Emmy/Grammy winning author aside, it’s a beautiful story about an orphan who finds an abandoned cottage not far from the orphanage.  She fixes it up and makes it truly hers. Eventually this cottage leads her to find a family and a place where she belongs. I see this book as being about the creation of a family. It’s not one that Mandy is born into but rather one that she makes for herself.  I think it shows that whatever circumstances you’re born into, you can create a place for yourself. It might not be lavish or fancy. The people around you might not be perfect. But that’s not necessary for happiness.

“Mandy tidied the weeds and pulled out some of the summer flowers. It saddened her to do so. She was parting with beloved friends.”

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hogsdsen Burnett– In some ways, this is probably similar to Mandy. It’s about an orphan creating a home and her family for herself. But the orphanage where Mandy lives isn’t hostile. It’s just not meeting her emotional needs. On the other hand, Mary Lennox finds herself in a house full of strangers, on the bleak moors of England (after having spent most of her life in India). Her guardian, her Uncle Archebold is a man who still actively mourns the wife he lost ten years earlier. He closed away the garden she loved after her death, and hides the son to whom she died giving birth. Uncle Archibold isn’t evil- he believes that he’s doing this for the boy’s delicate health. Nonetheless, he’s created an environment where it’s impossible to breathe. He’s buried his pain, but in doing so he has also buried the things that can help to ease it. It’s only once Mary opens the garden and brings her cousin outdoors that this family can begin to heal. Because it’s unhealthy to keep the past buried. Especially when it’s painful. Because then it festers and grows. Sometimes to only way to heal is to open up. It may be more painful at first, but the healing is genuine.

“One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as powerful as electric batteries—as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live… surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.

51srrilel-_ac_us218_4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott– I remember the first time I read this book. I  loved all the characters but I wanted to be Jo. I remember sobbing at Beth’s fate. And unlike many readers I remember being sort of glad that Jo turned down Laurie’s proposal. Even at ten I saw that they made great friends, but as life partners they’d be disastrous. But this is really a beautiful depiction of family life. At home and at a distance. Jo has a pretty happy home environment, but she’s not satisfied until she exposes herself to more of the world. A happy childhood with a loving family is a wonderful foundation in life. But most of us need to spread our wings at some point. If we’re lucky, we can do that, knowing that home is always a place where we can return when we need to, and that family will be there for you no matter what.

I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copybooks; and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_5. Anne series by LM Montgomery (as well as Montgomery’s other work, but Anne is non-negotiable!) I’ve mentioned my Anne obsession before in this blog. She was my first literary kindred spirit. I felt like I grew up with her. As a younger kid there was Anne of Green Gables, as I grew a bit older there was Anne of Avonlea, and so on. Anne’s optimism always stands out for me. I try to be optimistic, but I find it very hard! Anne has every reason to expect the worst, but still manages to see what’s good, and beautiful around her. Her romanticism can get her into trouble sometimes, but it also makes her wonderfully resilient. That’s a good lesson for any kid to learn.

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

Anne of Green Gables

512350qjy9l-_ac_us218_6. The Sneetches, The Lorax, Horton Hatches the Egg or The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss- I think that Dr. Seuss is great. I love the stuff that’s pure silliness a la The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. But I’m always impressed by his ability to teach a lesson in rhymes and colorful pictures. He illustrates the tragic absurdity of racism and war in The Sneetches and The Butter Battle Book respectively. He illustrates the heartbreaking shortsightedness that polluters show in The Lorax. And Horton Hatches the Egg proves that it’s love and care, rather than just biology, that truly makes a parent. I can’t choose just one because I think that these are all important lessons for kids to learn.

“But now,” says the Once-ler, “now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The Lorax

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_7. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– I know so many kids who fell in love with reading thanks to this series. Even if I didn’t think it was a great read (which I do!) it would be worth putting on for that reason alone. But though JK Rowling writes about kids and for kids in this series, she doesn’t talk down to them. The reader is able to grow with the characters. The first few books are shorter with narratives that are seemingly self contained. But as the series progresses (and the readers and characters get older) the books become more involved. We start to see a much larger story arc being built.  It grows darker. Happy endings aren’t guaranteed for all the characters. But it also shows a world where elves, ghosts, wizards, and witches coexist. There are struggles, but those struggles teach empathy (who hasn’t felt bad for a house elf now and then?). In fact, some studies have shown that Harry Potter fans are more likely to be empathetic people. I believe that empathy, and the ability to act on it, is one of the things that then world desperately needs.

“Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

c1ohnstw6ts-_ac_us218_8. The Fudge Books by Judy Blume– Choosing just one book by Judy Blume is a close to impossible task. You can check out a little essay I wrote for Girls at Library a while back discussing how she’s impacted me as a reader. I chose this series for a few reasons. I loved a lot of Blume’s “pre-teen girl” books like Are You There God It’s Me Margaret (the book which made me think that menstruation was going to be the most fun thing ever, and led to some significant disappointment a few years later) But not every reader is a girl. For the record I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a boy reading a book intended for girls. If anything it can combat ignorance. But my first exposure to Judy Blume was simple fun. I read Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing with my dad several years before I was actually in fourth grade. But I loved it. I loved the Hatcher family. I loved Fudge. I loved Turtle (who happens to be a dog), and Sheila the Great, and Peter. I read a few of these to my students over the years and they loved them too. Sometimes it’s nice to have something that just makes kids enjoy reading.

“I wanted them,” Fudge whined.
“I know you did. But we can’t buy everything you want.” Mom told him.
“Why”
“We don’t have the money to buy…” I could tell Mom was having a hard time explaining this. She thought for a minute before she finished. “…just for the sake of buying. Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
“I know it doesn’t grow on trees,” Fudge said. “You get it at the ATM.”
“You can’t just go to the ATM whenever you want money,” Mom told him.
“Yes you can,” Fudge said. “You put in your card and money comes out. It works every time.”
“No. You have to deposit money into your account first,” Mom said. “You work hard and try to save part of your salary every week. The cash machine is just a way to get some of your money out your account. It doesn’t spit out money because you want it. It’s not that easy.”
“I know, Mom,” Fudge said. “Sometimes you have to stand on line.”
Mom sighed and looked at me. “Got any ideas Peter?”
Double Fudge

61wniu1hbzl-_ac_us218_9. The Henry, Beezus, and Ramona books by Beverley Cleary– Henry Huggins lives on Klickitat Street alongside  Beezus and Ramona Quimby. We follow these characters as they bond with animals, build clubhouses, prove themselves worthy of jobs, deal with annoying siblings, and try to behave like grown ups. I found these characters easy to love because they thought like kids. They saw the world as kids do. They understood parts of what they experience, and what they didn’t understand their minds filled in, often with hilarious results. I put these on here, because childhood is often confusing. Kids get all kinds of mixed messages, from adults, from the media, from their peers. Sometimes it’s helpful to have some literary friends who, like you, are just trying to figure it all out.

“Ramona could not understand why grown-ups always talked about how quickly children grew up. Ramona thought growing up was the slowest thing there was, slower even than waiting for Christmas to come.
She had been waiting years just to get to kindergarten, and the last half hour was the slowest part of all.”

Ramona The Pest

51cbwb1nmql-_ac_us218_10.  Fairy Tales– I think I’ve shared one of my stranger childhood habits on this blog before: I used to go to the library and take out as many versions of a given fairy tale as I could find. Then I’d compare and contrast. “In this version the stepsisters cut off their toes to fit into the glass slipper” vs. “In this version they just try to shove their feet in.” Then of course there was Cinderella’s fairy godmother doing her favors vs. her mother’s ghost. And no, I did not just limit myself to Cinderella.  But my own childhood weirdness aside, I think  that fairy tales and folklore have a lot to teach us. They speak to something really primal in us. I believe that’s why we see the same themes appear in so many stories from around the world. That’s why they inspire so much of my own writing. They address the child’s fear of not being loved and cared for (whether it’s through inadequate, or absent parents), the fear of being lost in the woods, without resources. They look at the hope that we have when we make a wish, as well as the risk that comes with getting something for nothing. Some of our societies greatest artist in a variety of fields, from Neil Gaiman, to Stephen Sondheim, to Anne Sexton, have been inspired by these stories and the warnings and lessons therein.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Neil Gaiman (Coraline)

51mv1xuuql-_ac_us218_11.  Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown– (am I allowed to do this? Because just 10 won’t do in this case!) Yes this is a book for very young children. But I loved it. There was something so reassuring about it. The predictability, the consistency. I remember that my parents would read it as a bedtime story, and afterward, I’d say. “goodnight” to the things in my room. I think that there is something lovely about taking stock of your surroundings, even if they’re nothing particularly remarkable, and just acknowledging them.

“Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”

As I look at this list, I notice that a lot of these are books by white writers, featuring white characters. I think part of the reason for that is the fact that when I was a kid there was even less diversity in publishing than there is today. But I wouldn’t want my hypothetical kids/godkids/whatever to only read books that reflect only a small portion of humanity. In terms of children’s books featuring POC I’d encourage them to read many books including The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Come on Rain by Karen Hesse, My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvitis, Esperenza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. I realize that by tacking this on to the bottom of my list it seems like I’m just doing it to be PC. I’m not. I really believe that’s its important for children to see their own experiences reflected in literature. This books on my list reflect my experiences to an extent. But having read about other ways of life, other kinds of families in different parts of the world, has been a huge factor in giving my an appreciation of the diversity of human experience. I think that’s important for every kid to have. I wish I had time to go into more about why the books I mentioned are good but I don’t.

Top Ten Tuesday: Food in Books

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

October 17: Top Ten Yummy Foods Mentioned In Books (Does a character eat something you’d love? Or maybe the book takes place in a bakery/restaurant that makes yummy things? You could also talk about 10 of your favorite cookbooks if you don’t read foody books.)

I’m not really a foodie. I mean, I like food, don’t get me wrong! I like to eat. But I hate to cook. My dislike of cooking means that unless I’m ordering in or eating out, I tend to opt for simple things. Think spaghetti, scrambled eggs, and sandwiches. But I can get my fix of exotic foods on the page!

51z3mpqa7ml-_ac_us218_1. Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harrris- Chocolat seems to be the popular Harris choice for lists about food books. But I actually prefer this one. Framboise Darigan is an old lady who recalls the her childhood in a small, French town, which coincided with the later days of the Occupation during WWII. Framboise and her siblings traded with the Germans on the black market. They meet Tomas, a charming young Nazi who gives them gifts. But this friendship leads to a tragic, violent series of events that still torments Framboise years later. This sounds heavy and it is, but there’s some yummy food there too. Framboise and her mother are gifted cooks. In her narration, Framboise often speaks in terms of food.

“This is something different again. A feeling of peace. The feeling you get when a recipe turns out perfectly right, a perfectly risen souffle, a flawless sauce hollandaise. It’s a feeling which tells me that any woman can be beautiful in the eyes of a man who loves her.”

51tnp5yzcsl-_ac_us218_2. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan- Pearl Louie Brandt is the American born daughter of a Chinese mother. She and her mother have never been very close, but when she goes home for a wedding, she gets the truth of her mother’s past. Here the narrative shifts to Japanese occupied China in the years around WWII. Winnie Louie (Pearl’s mother) was an orphan who lived with her uncle and his family. A marriage was arranged for her when she grew up. This marriage turns out to be a disaster. Her husband is abusive.  She likens her situation to a Chinese fable about the wife of a man who was horrible to her no matter how much she did for him. This man still became known as the “kitchen god”. This is also a heavy topic, but with some very yummy sounding descriptions of Chinese fare.

“I take a few quick sips. “This is really good.” And I mean it. I have never tasted tea like this. It is smooth, pungent, and instantly addicting.

“This is from Grand Auntie,” my mother explains. “She told me ‘If I buy the cheap tea, then I am saying that my whole life has not been worth something better.’ A few years ago she bought it for herself. One hundred dollars a pound.”

“You’re kidding.” I take another sip. It tastes even better.”

51f55a0yvl-_ac_us218_3. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- Claire Waverly is a caterer who makes her food with mystical plants: nasturtiums are for keeping secrets, pansies are for thoughtful children etc. Her cousin, Evanelle, also has some strange gifts. The two of them are the last of the Waverlys. Well, except for Claire’s sister, Sydney, who ran away from their small town home of Bascom, North Carolina, as soon as she could. But when Sydney comes back home, she brings with her a young daughter and a dark history. She and Claire struggle to reconnect and create a family and a home. A few weeks ago, I wrote about First Frost, which is a stand alone sequel to this book.

“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.

51t-vfynk1l-_ac_us218_4. The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell- Rachel has spent her whole life keeping the fact that she can make wishes come true a secret. The consequences of granting wishes have a history of being disastrous. So when she accidentally grants a wish for the first time in years, she decides its time to hit the road. Her car runs out of gas in Nowhere, North Carolina. There she meets Catch, an old woman who can bind secrets by baking them into pies. She also meets Catch’s neighbor, Ashe, a handsome fellow who makes Rachel believe that a happily ever after might be possible for her. But when wishes start to pile up all over town, Rachel must finally learn to accept who she is, and how to control her ability. This was a nice “comfort read” at the end of a long day. And it made me want pie. A lot.

“She relaxed her grip on the plate and inhaled the sweet scent of the peach pie. She would have eaten it even if it hadn’t smelled like heaven on a plate, but after the first bite, she was grateful Catch had ignored her initial refusal.”

51cve8ijpbl-_ac_us218_5. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg- Evelyn Couch is 48 years old and having a mid-life crisis. Ninny Threadgoode is 86 and still living with a lifetime of happy memories. When they meet in the visitors room of an Alabama nursing home, Cleo begins to tell Evelyn about the town she grew up in, during the great depression. Much of the life in town centered around the Whistle Stop Cafe which was run by Idgie Threadgoode, a rebellious tomboy, and her partner, Ruth. Idgie, Ruth and the Whistle Stop Cafe survive just about everything; from the depression, to the KKK, to murder. And they do it amidst the smell of good food!

“The Whistle Stop Cafe opened up last week, right next door to me at the post office, and owners Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison said business has been good ever since. Idgie says that for people who know her not to worry about getting poisoned, she is not cooking.”

41nzls4cxol-_ac_us218_6. Sunshine by Robin McKinley-Rae “Sunshine” Seddon works at her stepfather’s bakery (where her cinnamon rolls are legendary!). One night she goes out to the lake in search of some peace and quiet. She ends up getting kidnapped by vampires. She’s held in the same room as Constantine, another vampire, who is also in chains. He’s been captured by his enemy who wants him to die slowly of daylight and starvation. But Sunshine has some secret powers (aside from baking, that is) and she frees them both. But they soon find themselves on the run from Constantine’s enemies.  I’m sort of conflicted about putting this book on my list, since I ultimately disliked it for the same reason that it belongs on here: a lot too much time was spent on describing how the main character makes the best cinnamon rolls ever. But I’m putting it on the list because, well, the cinnamon rolls did sound pretty good!

“Mr. Responsible Media was looking rebellious, but this was my country. I was the Cinnamon Roll Queen and most of those assembled were my devoted subjects.”

51cpofw4mll-_ac_us218_7. Mistress of the Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni- Tilo is an old woman who sells spices in Oakland California. She suggests spices to flavor different dishes, but secretly these spices treat the spiritual problems of her customers. Because Tilo isn’t really an old woman. She’s really the immortal “Mistress of the Spices” trained in the art of spices and given special powers. But these powers come with rules.  When she breaks those rules she doesn’t lose her magical abilities, but she does lose power regarding the outcomes when she uses her magic. Ultimately she has to chose between being a powerful immortal, or an ordinary woman. This book makes me hungry for Indian food.

“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”

51h2-a-nbl-_ac_us218_8. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder- Yelena faces execution for murder (the fact that he deserved it doesn’t seem to matter much….) She is offered a way out: become the food taster for the commander of Ixia. She’s kept from escaping by being poisoned. Only the commander’s head of security, Valek, has the antidote, which most be administered on a daily basis. But Yelena soon discovers that she has a role to play in Ixia’s future. She gets caught up in castle politics, but her actions make some people impatient with waiting for poison to finish her off. It seems strange to have a book about someone tasting a food for poison make a reader hungry, but almost every chapter has a description of a yummy meal- the fact that it may or may not be poisoned just makes it a bit more interesting!

“When you warned me that you would test me from time to time, I thought you meant spiking my food. But it seems there is more than one way to poison a person’s heart, and it doesn’t even require a meal.”

51-eyayn0ol-_ac_us218_9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern- Behind the scenes of Le Cirque des Reves there’s a duel taking place between two magicians. Celia and Marco have been trained from childhood to fight to the death. However, the best laid plans fall apart when Celia and Marco fall in love. They’re still bound to their duel, unless they can find a way out. Nothing about the plot deals with food really, but the writing is very sensory. There are a lot of food related metaphors that almost let you taste what they’re talking about.

“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.”

51qlgj6zojl-_ac_us218_10. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- The Harry Potter universe should really come with its own menu. The books need no introduction. But whether it’s Mrs. Weasley’s feasts, the food trolley on the Hogwarts express, or the contents of Honeyduke’s sweetshop, there’s something mouthwatering, and something cringeworthy (Jelly Slugs? Blood flavored lollipops?) for everyone. I once had something claiming to be Butterbeer. It actually tasted suspiciously like ginger ale.

“He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.’’  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Back To School Freebie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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