For the Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday. A little late in the day today, but it’s still Tuesday!
September 12: Throwback Freebie: Ten Books I Loved During The First Year I Started My Blog, Favorite Books Published 5 or 10 or 15 Years Ago, Ten Older Books I Forgot How Much I Loved, etc. etc. Tweak however you want!
I struggled with this one a bit because I’ve done a post on childhood favorites and touched on them in several other posts as well. I’ve also done American classics. So I decided to look back to my teens. What was I reading then? I made one or two rules, like if it was for school it doesn’t count. And this is what I ended up with. I actually learned a bit from looking back on my tastes as a teen. Some things I loved then I love now. But as a teen I was into melodrama. I still have a fondness for it, but I also appreciate subtlety now, in a way I didn’t back them.
1. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– An unnamed heroine meets the handsome, wealthy Maxim DeWinter while working in France. She falls in love and they marry. Maxim is a widower who the owner of Manderley, a mansion in Cornwall. When the heroine arrives at her new home, she finds that Max’s late wife, Rebecca, is still Mrs. DeWinter as far as the staff are concerned. Especially Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper who seems obsessed with Rebecca. The heroine (she doesn’t even get a first name, while her predecessor gets the book title!) finds her home and her marriage overshadowed by the deceptive legacy of the beautiful, Rebecca. I found a copy of this for $0.50 at a yard sale when I was about 14 and my dad said it was good, so I picked it up. I literally had no idea it was famous and no expectations. I think I read the whole thing in a few days!
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. We can never go back again, that much is certain. The past is still close to us. The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic – now mercifully stilled, thank God – might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion as it had before.”
2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews- Catherine Dollanganger lives with her parents, her older brother, Christopher, and her younger siblings, toddler twins named Cory and Carrie. But when their father dies, her mother, Corinne tells the kids that their grandparents (who they’ve never met) are still alive and are very wealthy. They disowned Corinne when she got married, but now they’re willing to take her back. So the Dollangangers go to Foxworth Hall, a Gothic mansion. They’re met by their Grandmother, who brings them to a room adjoining the attic of Foxworth Hall and locks the door. Corinne’s father won’t give her an inheritance if she had children with their father, but he’s won’t live too long. So the children just have to stay in the attic until he dies. I read this when I was about 13. I don’t know how appropriate it was content wise, but I was utterly enthralled. In retrospect, aspects are obvious. The name “Dollanganger”, a pseudonym that Catherine’s parents made up, looks and sounds an awful lot like “doppelganger”. The oldest kid, Christopher, was named after his father, and Cathy, Cory and Carrie sound an awful lot alike…. A more experienced reader wouldn’t be surprised when the children, confined to the attic, repeat the sins of their parents. But at the time I was totally shocked. I devoured the book and all the sequels, and pretty much everything else Andrews wrote, which was actually only about 8-10 books. Most of the books attributed to Andrews were written by a ghostwriter hired by her family, following her death.
“It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like the sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. ‘Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine.’ Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic.”
3. Intensity by Dean Koontz– I think I started this one Friday afternoon when I was around 14 and didn’t actually put it down until early Saturday morning, when I’d finished. Chyna Shephard is a graduate student, who is visiting the family of her friend, Laura, for a weekend. When Edgar Vess, a serial killer breaks in, he kills Laura’s whole family. He captures Laura; and Chyna, who’d been hiding, secretly follows to try to save her friend. But Laura is killed before that can happen, and Vess starts driving, with Chyna still in back of his motor home. When he stops at a gas station, she sneaks out to find a phone. She overhears him bragging about Ariel, a young girl who he is holding prisoner in his basement, to the clerks just before he kills them. Chyna continues, desperate to save Ariel. But before that can happen, Vess captures Chyna too. He’s intrigued by her actions and decides not to kill her right away. But what Vess doesn’t know is that Chyna has already survived an abusive childhood and isn’t going to see another child suffer. Nor will she be a willing victim. I think I admired Chyna when I first read this book. She was sort of like a superhero. Well, a superhero who could have just called the cops from the gas station, told them what she knew about Ariel, given them Vess’ license plate number, and avoided the whole hostage situation. Even as a teen I thought that would be the brighter move….
“The normality of the house terrified her: the gleaming surfaces, the tidiness, the homey touches, the sense that a person lived here who might walk in daylight on any street and pass for human in spite of the atrocities that he had committed.”
4. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb– I think that when I was about 15 or 16 I tried to read all (or most) of the books Oprah picked for her book club. I forget, why. I’m not a huge Oprah fan really…. Anyway, this one resonated with me the most. It explores some heavy topics: domestic abuse, mental illness, dysfunctional families; but it maintains a certain humor in spite of itself. It’s about a set of twins, one of whom is mentally ill (like in the opening scene he cuts off his hand because he thinks God told him to) and the other who is a productive member of society. The “sane” twin has a strong sense of responsibility toward his sibling. But as he helps his brother through a crisis, he becomes aware of his own self destructive tendencies. I think this was the first book I read that really made it clear that machismo and male posturing can be as damaging to men as misogyny can be to women.
“I didn’t respond to him. Couldn’t speak at all. Couldn’t look at his self-mutilation–not even the clean, bandaged version of it. Instead, I looked at my own rough, stained house painter’s hand. They seemed more like puppets than hands. I had no feelings in it either.”
5. A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett- I think this was one of the books that I discovered on my dad’s bookshelf one day, when I was looking for something to read. I read it when I was home from school sick, and it definitely took my mind off not feeling well. It starts in Scotland in the 1760’s. Mack McAsh is an indentured coal miner who dreams of freedom. He finds an unlikely ally in Lizzie Hallim, the daughter of a laird, who is, in her own way, just as trapped as Mack is. They make their way to America amid intrigue and danger. In retrospect it was a bit far fetched the way that the novel kept Mack and Lizzie always running into one another, but it also depicts life in the American colonies prior to rebellion, as well as the slow decline of the British empire.
“I pledge this child to work in the mines, boy and man, for as long as he is able, or until he die.”
6. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I think I was about 17 or 18 when I first read this. It was the kind of book I breezed through in about a day, but it got me on a “brit chick lit” reading frenzy for a while. I don’t think I’d even read Pride and Prejudice at the time, so I didn’t appreciate this book as an adaptation until I read P&P my freshman year of college…. But I did enjoy on its own. A lot of reviewers tend to say people relate to Bridget because she’s “everywoman” I disagree. She’s too ridiculous for that. But she’s forthright and honest about her mistakes in her diary. That makes us sympathize with her and root for her.
“It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.”
7. White Oleander by Janet Fitch– After she is sentenced to life in prison after killing her boyfriend, Ingrid’s daughter, Astrid, is sent from one foster home to the next, experiencing all kinds of trauma. When Astrid’s false testimony could set Ingrid free, Astrid makes it clear to her mother that she’ll do it, but it will have a deep psychological cost. This was one of the first books I can remember reading, where I would stop at different points and just appreciate the beautiful prose.
“They wanted the real mother, the blood mother, the great womb, mother of fierce compassion, a woman large enough to hold all the pain, to carry it away. What we needed was someone who bled…mother’s big enough, wide enough for us to hide in…mother’s who would breathe for us when we could not breathe anymore, who would fight for us, who would kill for us, die for us.”
8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- I think I was around 16 when I first read this. Of course, now most people are familiar with the TV series, and the fact that as far as dystopias go, this one is looking all too plausible. But it’s rare that you can pinpoint when you form a definite, strong belief about something, but this book helped shape my views about reproductive rights, women’s rights, and separation of church and state. My ideas were headed in this direction anyway, but this gave them a definite push.
“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”
9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I remember I read this my senior year of high school, so I must’ve been about 17. I read it 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 remember getting all excited and pointing it out to my teacher at one point! Like Crime and Punishment, it explores the psychological and moral deterioration that result from willfully destructive actions. But of course, this has a contemporary setting.
“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.”
10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– I read this freshman year of college, so I’d have been about 18 at the time. I was really pulled in by Scarlett as a character. She’s selfish, spoiled, entitled, and stubborn. In another book she might be a villain. But here, we find ourselves rooting for her, in spite of her actions. Melanie, her… well I guess “frenemy” would be the best word…on the other hand was a lovely, kind hearted character who I found far less compelling. Likable, but she wouldn’t keep me reading on her own.
“That is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!”