Top Ten Tuesday: Best MetaFiction

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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July 28: Freebie (This week you get to come up with your own TTT topic!)

I made this list recently and decided to use it here. For the purpose of this list, I’m calling metafiction a “self conscious” novel. These books discuss, and think about themselves as works of fiction, within the context of the novel. So we have lots of books within books, narrative footnotes that continue to story while commenting on it, and other forms withing the novel (diaries, letters, poetry, essays, plays etc).

51va-sxea5l._ac_uy218_1.The Princess Bride by William Goldman – The author frames the story as an abridged  retelling of an older book with the boring parts taken out. He frequently alludes to these parts throughout the text.  In the film adaptation this was handled by having frame story in which a grandfather reads his grandson the novel. We see this in the book as well, but it’s less prevalent.

“He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”

 

71jfo2zkzvl._ac_uy218_2.If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino– This one opens with “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” Throughout the text the fictional reader and real reader’s relationship is discussed and addressed, blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. There are also several books within  the book that we read (at least in part).

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything: just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

810pcxbl3l._ac_uy218_3. House of Leaves by Mark Danielwski– This books is has text arranged in strange ways that mirrors the events of the story. It contains lots of footnotes (which also have footnotes themselves) that reference works that don’t really exist. There are several narrators some of whom directly address the reader. It claims to be an unpublished manuscript of a lost documentary film, annotated by a tattoo artists. There’s also an appendix of letters from the tattoo artist’s (insane) mother.

“This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish [the book] and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place”

 

81oy308r7ql._ac_uy218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles– This novel looks at the 19th century novel as seen through a late 20th century perspective. We read the story that takes place in 1867, and the narration that calls one’s attention to the fact that the 1867 plot line is in fact, fictional. This was handled in the film adaptation by having a second timeline in which we see the 1867 story line being made into a film.

“You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture makers enjoy making furniture, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true of all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.”

 

71scqfzfhel._ac_uy218_5.  Atonement by Ian McEwan– Minor spoiler alert: The book turns out to have been “written” by one of the characters in the novel. The reasons that the character has for doing this involve much bigger spoilers. Interestingly the film adaptation didn’t try to do anything fancy with a secondary timeline. The “reveal” is simply there at the end.

“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.”

 

51xunct3xjl._ac_uy218_6. The Keep by Jennifer Egan– In the first chapter, this shifts from a story about two estranged cousins a Gothic castle to being about a man named Ray who is writing the story as a part of a prison’s creative writing program. The two stories unfold, switching back and forth, as the storylines reflect  back on one another.

Being somewhere but not completely: that was home for Danny, and it sure as hell was easier to land than a decent apartment. All he needed was a cell phone, or I-access, or both at once, or even just a plan to leave wherever he was and go someplace else really really soon. Being in one place and thinking about another place could make him feel at home.”

81qh7u4anel._ac_uy218_7. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne– I remember reading this in college with a big, “WTF!?” expression on my face the whole time! It claims to be the memoirs of a country gentleman, but it’s really one digression after another, and sometimes the digressions have digressions of their own! We also get some sermons, essays, drawings and more mixed in there. I tend to think of metafiction as being postmodern, so it’s amazing that this book was written in the 18th century!

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading;—take them out of this book for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;”

 

813yvojs9pl._ac_uy218_8.The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood– This book includes a story within a novel within a novel. Iris is publishing a book written by her sister, Laura. Her book is about Alex Thomas, an author pulp sci-fi, who has a complicated relationship with two sisters (who may be counterparts for Iris and Laura). It also contains one of Alex’s stories, The Blind Assassin. Got that?

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

a150ni9rjrl._ac_uy218_9.Possession by AS Byatt- This novel follows two academics as they follow a paper trail, researching the love affair between two fictional 19th century poets. It incorporates fictional diary entries, letters, and poems. These devices are ultimately used to question the authority of textual narratives.

“Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.”

 

71vksxqmbul._ac_uy218_10. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz– Susan is editing the new manuscript by best selling mystery author Alan Conway, known for writing in the tradition of authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. We read the manuscript along with her. But there seems to be a chapter missing. Specifically, the last one where we learn whodunnit! Susan figures that it’s a mistake and she’ll talk to Alan on Monday and get the missing pages. But then she learns that Alan has just died and the missing pages are nowhere to be found. As she starts looking for the rest of the book, Susan discovers that the missing portion of the manuscript may reveal more than just the murderer in the novel: it may also contain information about who was responsible for Alan’s own death. In this case not only the manuscript, but the title itself if a clue as to whodunnit.

“I had chosen to play the detective—and if there is one thing that unites all the detectives I’ve ever read about, it’s their inherent loneliness. The suspects know each other. They may well be family or friends. But the detective is always the outsider. He asks the necessary questions but he doesn’t actually form a relationship with anyone. He doesn’t trust them, and they in turn are afraid of him. It’s a relationship based entirely on deception and it’s one that, ultimately, goes nowhere. Once the killer has been identified, the detective leaves and is never seen again. In fact, everyone is glad to see the back of him.”

Top Ten Tueday: Summer-y Books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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June 2: Books that Give Off Summer Vibes (or winter if you live in the southern hemisphere) (submitted by Kristin @ Lukten av Trykksverte)

81afmcattl._ac_uy218_1.The Great Gatsby by  F Scott Fitzgerald- I’m actually not the biggest fan of this book (I always say I find it easier to admire than to love) but it definitely feels like summer to me. One of the dog days, when it’s too hot and you feel like you can’t breath.

“I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it – overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands.”

 

71scqfzfhel._ac_uy218_2. Atonement by Ian McEwan– This book (especially the first 1/3) also has the feeling of one of those oppressively hot summer days, when people’s thoughts, feelings and emotions seem like they’re coming to a head.

“Dearest Cecilia, You’d be forgiven for thinking me mad, the way I acted this afternoon. The truth is I feel rather light headed and foolish in your presence, Cee, and I don’t think I can blame the heat.”

314ymltndpl._ac_uy218_3.Summer by Edith Wharton– Wharton saw this short novel as sort of a bookend to Ethan Frome set in summer rather than winter. She referred to it as “the hot Ethan.” In it, Charity Royall a naive girl from a humble background, meets an ambitious city boy and begins a torrid romance. It was quite scandalous when it first came out in 1917.

“She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.”

91-2eo8zzl._ac_uy218_4. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver– In this book, three stories set in Southern Appalachia are woven together with lush descriptions. It captures the fecundity of nature.

“This is how moths speak to each other. They tell their love across the fields by scent. There is no mouth, the wrong words are impossible, either a mate is there or he is not, and if so the pair will find each other in the dark.”

 

61o1jdpva-l._ac_uy218_5. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan– A  young woman competes with her father’s mistress for his attention, this short novel takes place over a languid summer on the French Riviera

“I saw an exquisite pink and blue shell on the sea-bottom. I dove for it, and held it, smooth and hollow in my hand all the morning. I decided it was a lucky charm, and that I would keep it. I am surprised that I have not lost it, for I lose everything. Today it is still pink and warm as it lies in my palm, and makes me feel like crying.”

91gphbagl._ac_uy218_6. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides– The first person plural narration in this calls to my mind a bunch of kids hanging out in each others backyards, furtively spying on their neighbors and discussing what they see. There’s a hazy quality, as if everything seen and said is filtered through the voice of those kids, telling their story.

“In the end we had the pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name.”

91tewvjr2fl._ac_uy218_7. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss– A girl and her family, a history professor and several students attempt to live like ancient Britons one summer. The feverish heat combines  a sense of dread and malice.

“The plant began to topple and I found myself feeling guiltier about killing it than I had about gutting the rabbits. The whole of life, I thought, is doing harm, we live by killing, as if there were any being of which that is not the case.”

81l58zq3l._ac_uy218_8.Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid- My summers never revolved around sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but they do seem like summery subjects if that makes sense. The rise band’s rise to fame and break up actually happens over the course of several years but  the passion, the music, and the anger seem to take place over an exceptionally long, hot summer.

“Passion is…it’s fire. And fire is great, man. But we’re made of water. Water is how we keep living. Water is what we need to survive. My family was my water. I picked water. I’ll pick water every time.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set In A Single Day

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

April 30: Inspirational/Thought-Provoking Book Quotes

Since I felt like this week’s topic was too broad, I decided to make up my own.  Books set over the course of a day are often referred to as circadian novels. This is sort of inspired by my list last week.

51l9obcg9dl._ac_ul436_1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf– An upper class British woman reflects on her life, her marriage and her relationships as she prepares to throw a party. Meanwhile, a WWI vet suffering from shell-shock serves as a sort of doppelganger or alternate for the title character.

 

 

71bet2bs-vl._ac_ul436_2. Ulysses by James Joyce– I have to confess that I’ve never read this all the way through. I’ve read bits and excerpts; enough to get the general idea. But I find it very hard to follow without grammar or chapters. I understand what Joyce’s intention was, but it’s not an enjoyable read for me. Joyce once said that he “put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” X which  sort of makes it feel (to me) like he’s playing a game with readers.

41o9-2wwf5l._ac_ul436_3. Saturday by Ian McEwan– This book, about a day in the life of a London neurosurgeon is very informed by the post 9/11 mindset. We see the character (successful, privileged, and generally happy) play squash, visit his elderly mother, and cook dinner for his family, but a sudden episode of violence prompts his reflection that the world has become “a community of anxiety.”

51-pdoml6l._ac_ul436_4. Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk– We follow the lives of several women in Arlington Park, an ordinary English suburb over a rainy day as they feel anger at their husbands, their children and the world in general. I wasn’t a fan of this one really. It just felt like several unpleasant women being miserable for an entire day.

 

81qilif8rul._ac_ul436_5. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple– This comic day in the life of Elinor Flood starts off normally. Elinor wakes and resolves to be “better” about her attitude and her life. Of course, that’s before her son decides to fake sick to stay home from school, and her husband goes off to work. When she calls his office she discovers that he’s told them (but not her!) that he’s on vacation. As Elinor navigates through the day, we learn about her life, and how she got to where she is.

51ycpilxgcl-_ac_us218_6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens- This may be cheating a bit, because it takes place over one night, but since all the action is set within the same 24 hour period, I think it counts…

 

 

510bxhy2vel._ac_ul436_7. Eleven Hours by Paullina Simons-Didi is an ordinary, albeit heavily pregnant, woman leaving a shopping mall in Dallas when she’s abducted. Her husband and the FBI try to reach her in time, and each chapter is timestamped and the whole thing plays out over (spoiler alert!) eleven hours. I didn’t particularly like this one. I found it predictable and Didi didn’t make a compelling heroine.

 

31yhicomrpl-_ac_us218_8. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson- This novel of an uptight English nanny who finds herself a job as a social secretary to a free spirited aspiring actress is light and funny. But because was written in 1938 reading it now, we know that the carefree Londoners we spend the day with will soon face horrors. This gives a bittersweet tone to what is intended as a light, fluffy read.

 

8104r4ac5ql._ac_ul436_ 9. New Boy by Tracy Chevalier- This re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Othello is set during one day at a 1970s era elementary school in a DC suburb. In some ways Chevalier makes a very strong statement: in the original play the escalation and lack of communication is typical behavior for ten year olds. So in this book Chevalier set these characters where they act like they belong: in a playground. But you could also argue that by doing that Chevalier belittles the source material. You’ll have to read it to decide which side of the argument you take.

And some variations on the theme

51t5nldq8kl-_ac_us218_The Hours by Michael Cunningham– This book is heavily inspired by Mrs. Dalloway, but it takes place over the course of three single day periods. One is the day that Virginia Woolf starts to write the novel. Another is the day that a 1950’s housewife begins to read it. The third is the day that a contemporary reincarnation of the main character throws a party and reflects on her life.

719ok4vdvzl._ac_ul436_One Day by David Nicholls– This book follows two characters on a single date over the course of twenty years. So from that point of view it’s one date but not one day. 

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday: 

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March 19: Books On My Spring 2019 TBR

81wulfx9ipl._ss135_1. The Tiger Catcher by Paullina Simons– This could go either way. Sometimes I’ll really like Simons’ work and sometimes it falls very flat. But it’s a different genre for her, which could be interesting. She usually writes contemporary or historical fiction. This seems to have a paranormal/fantasy twist.

 

511V7J75KsL._AC_US218_2. The Witches are Coming by Lindy West – In this book, West looks at the American pop culture landscape and how our popular culture, which is created by and for embittered white men, has sparked the current sociopolitical moment.

 

51gchg2zwel._ac_us218_3. Daisy  Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid– Reid can be a bit of a hit or miss for me. I loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo but some of her other work has struck me as a good premise with so-so execution. Still the buzz on this one is strong and my hopes are that it lives up to the the hype!

41qPb6ELO-L._AC_US218_4. Normal People by Sally Rooney- I’ve just heard really good things about this one. It’s been released in the UK for a while but the US release is forthcoming.

97801437861605. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth– Forsyth’s historical fairy tales are always a treat. This on is set in revolutionary France and China. It’s technically a summer release but I’ll be looking forward to it all spring!

910r60ag9tl._ac_ul436_6. In Another Time by Jillian Cantor– To be honest, I don’t know much about this one. I was looking at some spring 2019 releases and I saw this one and it just looked interesting. It’s about a German couple separated by WWII and is told in dual timelines: the years before the war are told from his POV and the years after are from hers.

71duocllggl._ac_ul436_7. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan– McEwan is another author who, at his best, is wonderful. But he sometimes falls short of his best. Still this alternate history involving AI sounds interesting to say the least.

81ypuey8lbl._ac_ul320_8. I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum–  Emily Nussbaum is a journalist and critic. In this collection of essays and reviews she essentially argues that we are what we watch. Obviously I don’t think she means that literally (I hope not!) but I am interested in how she supports that assertion on a metaphorical level.

81phnc2aigl._ac_ul436_ 9. Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald– This book just seems to combine several fictional settings, and tropes that I lot. It’s a love story set in NYC in the 1920’s and 30’s and it involves time travel.

81chisjzqml._ac_ul436_10. The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan- I really enjoyed Ruth Hogan’s debut, The Keeper of Lost Things. I hope that this lives up to Hogan’s promise as a writer.

Top Ten Tuesday: Anticipated Released for Early 2019

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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January 8: Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2019

511V7J75KsL._AC_US218_1.  The Witches are Coming by Lindy West– This book looks at how our current socio-political moment has been stoked by a steady diet of pop culture created by mediocre white men.

 

 

 

2. 51SnHkgfUEL._AC_US218_ Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert– I loved Brennert’s Moloka’i and I’m hoping that this lives up to that standard.

 

 

 

41q9vrZpraL._AC_US218_3. The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick- In this case the comparisons to Kate Morton, Barbara Erskine and Susanna Kearsley got my attention pretty quickly!

 

 

 

 

51sOOMroi9L._AC_US218_4. The Familiars by Stacey Halls– This is historical fiction set against the backdrop of the Pendle Hill witch trials. It looks interesting!

 

 

 

515y9hgrwzl-_ac_us218_5. The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye– I loved Faye’s Jane Steele and I’m currently reading (and enjoying) her first novel, Dust and Shadow. Her latest has been getting some good advance reviews, so I’m excited.

 

 

 

41qPb6ELO-L._AC_US218_6. Normal People by Sally Rooney– I think that this book has already been released some places, but here the release date is listed as April 2019. Regardless, it sounds good!

 

 

 

31ieCRhGhEL._AC_US218_7. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan– Sometimes when McEwan gets weird it doesn’t quite work for me (Nutshell, I’m looking at you!) but this novel about artificial intelligence set in a alternative version of London in the 1980’s sounds interesting.

 

 

41etjy5BOOL._AC_US218_8. Spring by Ali Smith– I’m a little behind on Smith’s four seasons quartet (I still haven’t read Winter!) but  I still plan to read that and this one ASAP.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Novellas and Short Stories

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 17: Favorite Novellas/Short Stories

515izn3gadl-_ac_us218_1. The Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin– Like Chopin’s famous novel The Awakening, this short story is an early exploration of how confining marriage could be for a woman at the turn of the century. It begins when Mrs. Mallard is informed of her husband’s death and follows her through the next hour, as she absorbs what that means for her life now.

 

51ugyhie53l-_ac_us218_2. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson– This is probably one of the more famous examples from the genre and for good reason. The more you think about what happens and the reasons for it, the more disturbing the implications become.  All the residents of a small town gather one summer morning to draw lots. Eventually, the residents are narrowed down more and more, until one is selected. What eventually becomes of the “winner” of this lottery will unsettle you.

41iob1yraol-_ac_us218_3. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway– I’m not usually a Hemingway fan at all, but I feel like in this case, his spare, economical style served the material well. A man and a woman are waiting at a train station. We follow their conversation over several pages and eventually we can put two and two together and understand where they’re going and why. Without any narrative commentary, the reader still gets a sense of the emotional distance between these people, and the tension comes from what they’re not saying.

61g-wucnurl-_ac_us218_4. The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield- This poignant story deals with a wealthy family preparing for a garden party. When they receive the news that their neighbor has died, the daughter Laura wants to call off the party. She’s overruled by the rest of the family. But when Laura is sent to bring some flowers to the dead man’s grieving family, she’s forever changed by what she encounters. To me, it’s a perfect example of what makes the short story special. It covers what is really a tiny piece of the character’s life (only a few hours), but also a time that will change her in a profound way.

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_5. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- The title story in Carter’s collection of retold fairy tales, this story explores the classic fairy tale, Bluebeard, in which a girl marries an older man and is taken to his castle, where she’s given the keys to all the rooms and is told that she can’t open one room. Of course, she does open it and discovers the bloody corpses of her husband’s previous wives. Carter’s retelling explores themes that are prevalent throughout her work, but most particularly her fairy tale retellings. These themes include sexuality and maternal instinct.

31g7ovvubul-_ac_us218_6. Shopgirl by Steve Martin– This novella by Steve Martin (yes, that Steven Martin) focuses on Mirabelle, a department store salesgirl in her late 20s who becomes involved with an older man. But it’s not the typical older man/younger woman misogynistic fantasy that you’d expect from an older male author. The focus of the novel remains on largely on Mirabelle throughout; her loneliness, her frustrations, and the reasons that she becomes involved in this relationship. It’s funny and poignant at the same time.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer–  Margaret Johnson, a wealthy woman from North Carolina, travels to Florence with her daughter Clara in 1953. Margaret’s husband, Roy, stays home to work. In Florence, Clara meets Fabrizio Nacarelli, a young man with whom she falls in love. Clara isn’t quite as she first appears, which may be a barrier to her future with Fabrizio.  Margaret hates the thought of her daughter suffering the pain of love gone wrong. But she is not able to express her concerns to Fabrizio or his family due to the language barrier.  Or so she thinks. As Clara and Fabrizio’s relationship progresses Margaret realizes that while she’s afraid of what will happen if Clara’s secret is discovered, her fear may be overruled by her hope for Clara’s happiness. These dual maternal instincts tear at her, as she tries to figure out what is in her daughter’s best interests.

51q4ceca-kl-_ac_us218_8. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan– In 1962, Florence and Edward fall in love and get married.  Both are virgins. While Edward is nervous about his wedding night, he is nonetheless looking forward to marriage. Florence, on the other hand, is terrified by the little she knows is involved in sexual intimacy. Because they’re both young and unsure, they navigate this tension in a clumsy way. But the words they don’t say, and the gestures they fail to make, may ultimately be what determines the fate of their marriage and the course of their lives. The narration runs parallel to the conflict. What isn’t explicitly said about the characters is implied. And those are the things that may make all the difference. This book caused some controversy in 2007 when it was nominated for the Booker Prize. At less than 40,000 words, it’s technically a novella, but it was allowed onto the shortlist of novels by the panel.

41srw9zyjrl-_ac_us218_9. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin– Omelas is a utopian city where all the residents live in peace and prosperity. As our unnamed narrator describes it, it seems too good to be true. In order to convince the reader that it is true, the narrator begins to speak of the price that is paid for the city’s happiness. It’s a price that’s initially horrifying to the residents once they learn of it. But most make their peace with it, knowing that it’s for the greater good. But some people aren’t able to accept it and end up leaving Omelas. The unasked question for the reader is, of course, “which would you be?” Would you live in paradise knowing that somewhere, an unseen injustice takes place all the time to keep you there? Or would you leave?

5100vzgkz-l-_ac_us218_10.  The Landlady by Roald Dahl– Billy Weaver is a young man traveling from London to Bath on business. He stops overnight at a bed and breakfast. The landlady is an older woman whom Billy initially suspects might be a little senile.  When he goes to sign the guestbook he sees that two of the previous lodgers have names that seem familiar to him but he can’t quite place. The landlady gives him some tea and they chat a bit. Nothing that happens seems ominous but the feeling that something is “off” pervades the story. When the truth about the B&B is revealed the reader will go back and look through the story trying to spot the clues.

Top Ten Tuesday: Anti-Travel Books

For That Artsy Reader Girl‘s Top Ten Tuesday, this week’s topic was

June 12: Books That Awaken the Travel Bug In Me

But then I started thinking that books that make me want to stay home might also be kind of fun…

51vkfhy5xal-_ac_us218_1. Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Location: Greek Resort

Problem: Lottie is disappointed when her boyfriend doesn’t propose. When her ex-shows up they impulsively decide to elope. After the ceremony, it’s a quick flight to Greece. But Lottie’s sister, Fliss, knows that this marriage is a terrible idea. She also knows the marriage can be easily annulled if it’s not consummated, so she’s on a mission to keep that from happening, getting everyone from the groom’s best friend, to the hotel staff to help her.

41unjbdr4ql-_ac_us218_2. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Location: Italy

Problem: Tom Ripley has been hired by a rich man to get his son Dickie to return to the US. Tom meets up with Dickie and some of his friends in Italy. But instead of getting Dickie to go home, he ends up killing Dickie and assuming his identity.

41yn-xblul-_ac_us218_3. Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier

Location: Venice, Italy

Problem- A young couple is vacationing in Venice while trying to recover from the loss of their daughter. They meet two women who claim to be psychic, and the women give a warning and tell them that their daughter’s spirit is with them. At the same time, a serial killer is stalking the city’s streets and canals…

51zbak-airl-_ac_us218_4. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Location: Scandinavian luxury cruise

Problem: Lo is a travel writer, assigned to cover the maiden voyage of a new cruise line.  Her first night on board, she hears a scream and a splash. Looking out her window she sees something in the water. However, the ship’s officials don’t believe that anything really happened. Lo had been drinking that night, and no passengers are missing.

51mny8nb9il-_ac_us218_5. The Ruins by Scott Smith

Location: Cancun, Mexico

Problem: Four friends are on a beach vacation. When the brother of one of them disappears they decide to look for him where he was last seen, checking out some ancient ruins in the jungle. When they reach the ruins, the locals don’t seem to want to let them go, and once they do make it, they’re not allowed to leave, because an ancient enemy lives in the ruins.

51q4ceca-kl-_ac_us218_6. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Location: Dorset coast, England

Problem: In 1962, Florence and Edward have just gotten married, and are on their honeymoon. But one of them has a secret that may tear them apart.

 

41thlz3l7dl-_ac_us218_7. Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

Location: Ireland

Problem: Rachael is an Irish ex-pat living in NYC. But when her tendency to overdo things lands her in the emergency room, her family whisks her back to Ireland and sends her to the Cloisters, a rehab. Rachel thinks it might be kind of nice: a little vacation, some spa treatments, maybe a celebrity roommate… What she finds are a lot of group therapy and some unwelcome self-knowledge.

51c7vwzpjhl-_ac_us218_8. Sleeping Arrangements by Madeline Wickam (aka Sophie Kinsella)

Location: Spain

Problem: Hugh feels alienated from his wife and kids. He hopes that a trip to a friend’s luxury villa in Spain will help the family reconnect. Meanwhile, Chloe and her family are facing similar problems and their friend offers them the same solution. But it turns out that their friend booked both families in the villa for the same week. And Chloe and Hugh have a history, and before the week is out old ghosts will be put to rest, new tensions will erupt, and the families may or may not make it out intact.

51ohnm-86zl-_ac_us218_9. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Location: North Africa

Problem: Port and Kit travel to Africa believing that it’s one of the last “unspoiled” places in the world. They’re soon joined by several annoying, parasitic travelers. To escape they head into the Sahara without plans or directions. It does not go well.

51yxivihhl-_ac_us218_10. The Magus by John Fowles

Location: Greek Island

Problem: Nicholas Urfe is a recent grad who has accepted a job teaching on a Greek island. He befriends the owner of an estate on the island, who plays elaborate mind games with him until he can’t tell what is and isn’t real.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in Another Country

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

March 27: Books That Take Place In Another Country

Since I’ve read a lot of books set in other countries I had to narrow this one down a bit. So I’m looking at books that I read in the past year:

41044w47wfl-_ac_us218_1. The Lives of Shadows by Barbara Hodgson – Syria

This “Illustrated Novel” sounded really interesting. In 1914 a young British man goes traveling and falls in love with Damascus. He buys a house there but WWI leaves him wounded, and a war in Syria causes further damage. He finally returns to the house years later and discovers that someone else might be living there too. We also follow the journey of Asilah, the house’s previous (and maybe still current?) inhabitant. However, I felt like the author didn’t explore these stories as much as I would have liked because she was more interested in the illustrations and photographs that she included.

51vs6bzd8kl-_ac_us218_2. Hummingbirds Fly Backwards by Amy Cheung– China

To be honest, I decided to read this book because it was free on kindle. It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t great either. It follows Chow Jeoi, a twenty-nine-year-old lingerie saleswoman in Hong Kong. She’s in love with Sam, a married man, and is willing to wait for him. Her friend, Chui Yuk, is willing to do anything to support her boyfriend’s writing career. Meanwhile, Yau Ying has been with her boyfriend for seven years and feels that their relationship is missing something. The biggest problem with this book for me was the fact that I didn’t like any of these women. Chow Jeoi is asked, late in the book, if she ever worries about hurting Sam’s wife. She’s honestly surprised. Like it might never have occurred to her that his wife had feelings otherwise! That made it hard for me to really feel anything for her. So while it was well written, I’m hesitant to recommend it.

51nmi7tdxfl-_ac_us218_3. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent- Iceland

I just finished reading this actually, and my overall impression was positive. It tells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a real woman who was executed for murder in Iceland in 1829. While awaiting her execution she was sent to a farm to stay. The family who owns the farm is (understandably) horrified and worried for their safety. But as Agnes spends her time on the farm, the family learns that she’s not the psycho that they’d been expecting. She tells them the story of her life, including what really happened the night that her boss/lover and his friend were killed. The Icelandic setting is really vivid here. I read it’s going to be made into a film soon, and I’m sure that it will look beautiful onscreen. Jennifer Lawrence is going to star in it, which doesn’t thrill me because I think she’s not quite right for the role.

51j2bc8fhbjl-_sl160_4. The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth- Germany

I read this for a few reasons. One is that I love Kate Forsyth. The other is that it’s a WWII story inspired by Beauty and the Beast. That sort of made me curious. Actually, it’s inspired by the Grimm’s brothers version of the tale, The Singing Springing Lark. But despite the source material, it’s not fantasy. It’s historical fiction, using a lot of real-life people, and the “beasts” are metaphorical. To save her family, Ava must marry Leo, a young Nazi officer. Ava hates the Nazi regime and is a member of an underground resistance movement. So she hides her activities from Leo even though she’s falling in love with him. But she gradually realizes that there’s more to Leo than meets the eye. He may wear a Nazi uniform, but he’s as opposed to what they’re doing as Ava is, and he’s using his position in the military to try to save who he can, and help the allies. Eventually, things reach a point where Ava and Leo are separated, and Ava must save Leo from deadly consequences.

51qcjqbtgll-_ac_us218_5. Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo– Finland

This is a weird book.  It follows Angel, a young photographer, who encounters a group of teens harassing a wounded young troll. In the world of the book, trolls are real, but they’re an extremely rare species. He takes the troll in and does his best to care for it, despite the fact that there’s not much information about troll care that he can find. The troll releases Angel’s own animal instincts. It’s a wild animal and as it grows, it becomes more and more unmanageable, leading Angel to make a difficult, and disturbing choice. I felt like this book was strange. I appreciated the way the writer tied Finnish folklore in with the question of animalistic tendencies manifest themselves in “civilized” people. There were parts that definitely made me go “ick” but I think that is intentional.

51vtshbedl-_ac_us218_6. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery– France

Even though this book is set in a Paris apartment building I think it could take place almost anywhere. Renee is the concierge of an upscale apartment building. She’s short, cranky, and overweight. Unknown to the building’s tenants, she’s also extremely intelligent, well-read, curious, and passionate about art. Paloma is a twelve-year-old girl who lives in the building.  She’s also super smart, but she’s disgusted by what seems like the futility of life. She plans to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday unless she comes across a good reason not to. To put people off she pretends to be an average pre-teen. When Paloma and Renee get to know each other they form an unexpected friendship. The book is really about the unexpected connections that unite people. It’s about how hope can change someone’s life. It’s not an easy read. Both narrators spend a lot of time thinking and philosophizing. But I found it worth the effort.

41eeavstjfl-_ac_us218_7. The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan– Italy

I normally like Ian McEwan but this book disappointed me. It follows a couple, Colin and Mary, on vacation in Italy. Their relationship has problems. When they meet another couple, Robert and Caroline, they’re happy. It takes their focus off their relationship and each other. But things between the couples start to become uncomfortable, and when Colin and Mary want to leave, they encounter resistance. There’s a pervasive sense of dread in this book, and it plays out in the horrifying conclusion. The problem is that there’s very little context for anything. We don’t know enough about Colin and Mary to care about them, and we don’t know enough about Robert and Caroline to understand why they behave the way that they do.

41aqeleynnl-_ac_us218_8. Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala– India

Olivia is the wife of a British civil servant in India in the 1920s. She’s bored. She finds herself intrigued by Nawab, a minor Indian prince who is involved in some shady goings-on. Olivia’s attraction to Nawab results in an affair and a scandal that humiliates her husband and shocks everyone. Years later, Olivia’s granddaughter goes to India looking for information about her grandmother. How did Olivia’s affair happen in a society that was so segregated? What happened after the scandal? As her granddaughter explores letters, journals, and notable places, history begins to repeat itself in strange ways. I liked this book, but something about the writing put me off. There was a distance between the writer, the reader, and both protagonists. That kept me from investing as much as I might have.

51iehedn8ml-_ac_us218_9. Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch- The Netherlands– This is another book that takes place in the Netherlands but could really be set anywhere. The main character, M, was once a successful novelist, whose most popular book was based on a real-life disappearance. Now M’s career is declining. But his neighbor seems oddly obsessed with him. We follow these characters and alternate between them and the story that is told in M’s famous novel. Something links the events of the book, the real-life crime, M, and his neighbor. But what? This book is slow going at times, and none of the characters are particularly pleasant. However, if you like the reveal at the end, it’s worth reading. If not, you might resent investing so much time getting there.

10. Too many books to count set in England. I’m just including the ones I liked!

Silence For the Dead by Simone St. James

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Precious Bane by Mary Webb

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

 

 

Top 10 Tuesday: Books That Surprised Me

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

March 13: Books That Surprised Me (in a good or bad way)

For this one, I initially interpreted it as being for books that I liked but didn’t think I would, or books that I thought I would love and didn’t. But then I thought it might be fun to look at books whose plots surprised me in some way.

61g8cli07xl-_ac_us218_1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone– I remember being terrified of this book as a kid. Grover tells the reader that there’s a monster at the end of the book, and to stop reading before you get there. So I would always slam the book shut before the end (hey, if Grover’s giving advice, I’m going to listen!). One day my mom sort of insisted that we keep reading. I was absolutely petrified, wondering why she refused to listen to Grover’s warnings. I still remember the utter surprise when the monster was revealed.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– This actually has several twists and turns that I wasn’t anticipating. But the one I’m thinking of here comes about midway through the book. It made me rethink pretty much everything that I’d read until that point.  I mean, I was reading it on a train and I literally shouted “Holy Crap!” when this happened. But even if you somehow manage to see that one coming, the plot twists yet again…

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This twist was a triumph of misdirection. I was focused on the happenings in the English country house and the crazy antics of the family. But all the time there was something else happening in the background, that I didn’t notice until it was pointed out. It gave me that feeling like the hairs in on the back of my neck were standing up. I think it’s sort of what Freud called “uncanny.” He used the term to refer to the sense of something familiar and intimate that has been distorted or changed somehow to become threatening, or tempting, or unknown.

51hytcoi7l-_ac_us218_4. Atonement by Ian McEwan– I’m really glad that I read this book before I saw the movie. While the twist in the movie is an additional scene added on, in the book, it’s revealed through the narration at the closing. It seemed more surprising that way, but less like a “trick.” One thing I liked about this ending was that the story can stand on its own, without it. It’s not one of those things where the entire narrative hinges on a twist. But it does add an additional layer to things.

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– I’m a big fan of this title actually because there’s a clue in it, regarding the whodunnit. It’s about people who come to an island party and are murdered one by one. It’s only when there are none left that the twist is revealed and we learn who the killer is. We get to know each of the characters before they’re murdered. We learn that they all have secrets and that there might be someone out there who wants any one of them dead. Learning that backstory is entertaining in itself. But once the bodies start piling up, we see these characters in a stressful situation, and that reveals even more about them.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_6. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– This twist was one I sort of saw coming because I knew that there was something off with the Max/Rebecca marriage. But I liked the ambiguity regarding the execution. It complicates things for the reader because we’re not 100% sure what we want to see happen next. The Hitchcock film (which I’m a big fan of) left fewer moral gray areas for the protagonists. That was most likely intended to make audiences sympathize with them, but I like being a little unsure of what I wanted to see happen, and what would feel like justice.

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This is another one that I’m very glad that I read before seeing the film. On film, the important information is revealed in the title cards at the very beginning, and a character explains it explicitly in the first 10-15 minutes. But in the book, it’s a slow, gradual realization. There’s no big “reveal.” Rather it starts off as a suspicion that leaves the reader hoping that s/he is wrong about what’s going on. There’s a sense of dread that builds as s/he realizes that s/he’s not.

41tynpkim4l-_ac_us218_8. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The action of this book takes place as a sort of extended flashback. The unnamed narrator is spending the winter in Starkfield where he sees a figure limping around town, and inquires about this “ruin of a man.” We learn that the man is the title character, that he had a bitter, suspicious, hypochondriac of a wife and that he fell in love with her cousin, Mattie. This dilemma is eventually resolved in a way that gives all three characters what they wanted but in such a way that they no longer want it.

51nzvigpebl-_ac_us218_9. The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve- This book ties into Shreve’s other novel The Weight of Water in an interesting way, that the casual reader of either book may not guess. But it’s easy to read one and fully appreciate it without reading the other. This book is about two lovers who meet at a literary festival. Then the novel moves backward in time, showing us a time that they met previously, and then it moves backward again, showing us their initial meeting. From there we see how they became sort of cursed to meet at different points in life (rather than spend it together) and to primarily discuss the last time they met each time they see one another.

518ktztx7ol-_ac_us218_10. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– This book is about a woman who finds a letter for her husband, that instructs her to open it only upon his death. It reveals something that has the potential to destroy their family and their lives. Except she finds it and opens it while her husband is very much alive. The first surprise is the nature of her husband’s revelation. I think that I was expecting him to tell her about an affair or something. But what he confesses in the letter doesn’t just affect their lives, but the lives of several other people too. It left me asking myself what I would do in that situation and unsure of the answer. Then, once everything is resolved at the end, the author gives some information that reframes everything that’s happened.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Summer Books

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week, I decided to look at ten books that are set in the summer and evoke the season somehow.

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan– In the summer of 1935, thirteen year old Briony Tallis sees a moment of sexual tension between her sister, and the housekeeper’s son, but doesn’t quite understand it. This misunderstanding leads her to tell a lie that will haunt the three of them for decades to come.

 “Dearest Cecilia, You’d be forgiven for thinking me mad, the way I acted this afternoon. The truth is I feel rather light headed and foolish in your presence, Cee, and I don’t think I can blame the heat.”

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2. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver– This novel features three interconnected plots that take place over a hot, humid, Appalachian summer. 

“Solitude is a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot, a tug of impalpable thread on the web pulling mate to mate and predator to prey, a beginning or an end.”

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3. Summer by Edith Wharton– This book, about a bored 18 year old who has an affair with a neighbor and gets pregnant, caused a bit of a scandal when it was first released in 1917. A century later it’s not as shocking, but Wharton is, as always, a beautiful writer.

“She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.”

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4. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas is an Oxford grad who takes a job as a teacher on a remote Greek island. Over the summer, he becomes bored, depressed and lonely. Then he meets Maurice Conchis, a wealthy recluse who lives on the island.  Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’ psychological games to the point where he isn’t able to tell what’s real and what isn’t. 

“I knew that on that island one was driven back into the past. There was so much space, so much silence, so few meetings that one too easily saw out of the present, and then the past seemed ten times closer than it was.”

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5. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer- This books follows the lives of several kids who met at a summer arts camp in the 1970s as they grow up. They circle one another over the year, coming together and apart. 

“But here was where the question of talent became slippery, for who could say whether Spirit-in-the-Woods had ever pulled incipient talent out of a kid and activated it, or whether the talent had been there all along and would have come out even without this place.”

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6.  Evening by Susan Minot– A dying old woman remembers a wedding in Maine, one summer in the 1950’s. It was the summer she found and lost the love of her life. This novel is as bittersweet as a summer romance.

“Who ever said that one got what one wanted. It was a small thing compared to… well, to a lot of things. She’d gotten over things before none like this she’d left things behind this was more she couldn’t speak of it this was the first thing only hers she would have to forget. It was too great it was her heart. She couldn’t explain and to try and to fail would be worse. It pressed in her. Life simply went on. He was not the only man. Her heart did not believe it. There were other men in the world. There was only one. She would try to live a life he would be proud of. She could not imagine it. She would always have him with her. He would go he would disappear he was already disappearing already he was gone. He had given her a great thing. He has gone, said her heart. She would not let this defeat her. Her heart swam on ahead. She would keep going, she would never speak of it. Her heart went on without her. No one would know. She swam through the cold water and let cold reason take over and the heart which had asked for too much left her behind and when she emerged from the water on the rocky beach she had let go of it and there was a new version in her, a sort of second heart. She went in with one heart and came out with a second heart inside.”

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7. Joyland by Stephen King- This isn’t King’s best known work by any means, but it does evoke a summer feel. It’s about a 21 year old by who spends his summer working at a North Carolina amusement park. At first there’s a sense of innocence that’s shattered as our narrator encounters an murder and a haunting.

“When you’re twenty-one, life is a roadmap. It’s only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure.”

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8. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume- Caitlin and Vix are best friends who spend every summer together. As they grow up, they find their relationship strained. Just a note, Blume is known for children’s and YA fiction. While the coming of age story might sound like it’s child friendly this novel is clearly intended for adults.

“Some people never get over their first loves. They spend their whole lives trying to recapture the thrill. Sometimes, after fifty years they get back together. They meet at some reunion or other and realize they were meant to be together.”

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9. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- The Ramsey family spend their summers in the Hebrides on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.  Woolf’s depiction of the emotions and ideas can be so overwhelming that it’s easy to forget that this is really a book about family, about “getting away from it all” with the people who mean the most to you but also annoy you the most.

“She felt… how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.”

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10. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith– Tom Ripley is hired by a rich man to go to Europe and convince the man’s son, Dickie, to come home. Tom befriends Dickie, and grows attached to the extravagant lifestyle he enjoys with Dickie. But when Dickie begins to tire of him, Tom takes drastic measures. This book is set mostly in sunny vacation spots in Italy and Greece that seem to evoke the smell of citrus and sunblock.

“Why should Dickie want to come back to subways and taxis and starched collars and a nine-to- five job? Or even a chauffeured car and vacations in Florida and Maine? It wasn’t as much fun as sailing a boat in old clothes and being answerable to nobody for the way”

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