Tag Tuesday: A Few Tags I’ve Been Meaning To Do

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was:

March 16: Books On My Spring 2021 TBR

But I didn’t want to do yet another TBR, so I decided to clear up some tags that I’ve been meaning to do.

The first is the Get To Know The Fantasy Reader tag which was originally created by Bree Hill I found it on Hundreds and Thousands of Books

The Questions

What is your fantasy origin story? (The first fantasy you read)

I honesty don’t know which one I first read. I read fairy tales obsessively as a child. When I loved a story I’d seek out as many versions of it as I could find, and compare and contrast them. (Yes, I was like 5 at the time!)

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Hmm… That’s an interesting question. I’d want it to be someone who wouldn’t do anything too terrible to a hero or heroine, so that leaves out a lot of authors! Maybe I’d go with Eva Ibbotson. Her fantasy books are intended mostly for younger readers, and while enough happens to make them interesting to an older audience, it’s usually nothing terrible to characters we like! As for tropes, I’d like to be the “Lucky Novice” whose never done something before, or done something with minimal training, and can do it really well. I usually have to practice a lot to be even halfway decent at something!

What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

This year is still fairly young and I haven’t read that many fantasy series yet. I suppose I’ll highlight Fairy Godmothers Inc., which is the first in the Fairy Godmothers, Inc. series. But it’s got a major caveat: while I think the series has potential I didn’t like the first book. I found the two main characters to be awful, separately and together. I say the series has potential though because it seems like the kind of thing that follows different characters in each book. It’s about three fairy godmothers living in the magical town of Ever After, Missouri. Love is the source of the magic in their world, but it’s running low. They decided to help attract more love to the town of Ever After by making it a popular wedding destination. But they need some help promoting it. They ask their goddaughter Lucky (who tends to have terrible luck!) a popular artist, to fake-marry their godson (and her ex) Ransom Payne (a billionaire who runs a chocolate company) in a high profile ceremony. Lucky and Ransom both agree because they want to help their beloved godmothers, but they are both the most annoying characters I’ve read in a long time. But the book is clearly setting up for a series set in Ever After, revolving around Fairy Godmothers, Inc. The residents of Ever After include Red and her werewolf Grammy, a frog prince named “Charming”, a reformed evil queen, and more. I don’t recommend it yet, because as I said I didn’t like the first book. But I think it has the potential to be a feel good, fun series, so I’ll give it another chance.

What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? 

Ummm, I can’t choose! I’ll say that fantasy inspired by fairy tales; even though that can fall into several different subgenres. After all, Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series which is sci-fi oriented, but is fairy tale inspired. Meanwhile Juliet Marillier’s work is also fairy tale/legend inspired but it tends have a strong historical setting. The Fairy Godmothers, Inc series I mention above seems like it also draws heavily from fairy tales, but it has a light, magical realist tone. So I guess “fairy tale inspired fantasy” allows me to cheat and pick lots of different subgenres!

What subgenre have you not read much from?

I don’t read much in the way of Sword and Sorcery. I’m not really into reading about straight out battles and violent conflicts most of the time. I prefer more subtle rivalries. But there are exceptions to every rule.

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

Just one?! I’ll say Juliet Marillier. I’ve read some books of hers that I’ve liked more than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one that I disliked.

How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)

All of the above. There are some bloggers whose opinions I trust, and I look at what my friends are reading on Goodreads mostly though.

What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is described as “Jamaica Inn by way of Jeff Vandermeer, Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter and Michel Faber” so that’s a big “yes, please!” from me.

What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

I suppose I’d have to differentiate between reading fantasy and writing fantasy for this one. For reading, I’d say the notion that it’s only for kids has to go. Yes, you can absolutely have fantasy intended for children. But the genre can often get dark, violent, subversive, and disturbing. In other words, not for children at all! In terms of writing, I’ll say that the idea that fantasy writing requires no research needs to die. There’s a lot of research involved. I rant about it a bit in this post.

If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

This is a tough one!

I wouldn’t do series because that’s a commitment and some don’t get really good until quite a ways in. I also think some classics of the genre tend to be too dense for beginners. Plus those always come with high expectations. So I’ll go with

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson– This books is a relatively easy, quick read, that uses a lot of the tropes that Harry Potter does, in a stand alone story.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– I recommend this one because it’s a stand alone of reasonable length that introduces readers to a more magic realist variation on fantasy. Plus I think Morgenstern beautifully engages the reader’s senses.

-The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker- This gets into the mythical creates of two different traditions and draws them together in a historical setting. It’s a great example of how fantasy can draw on different sources, and set itself in the “real” world. I actually see now that there’s a sequel that’s coming out in June, but I think it works as a stand alone, if someone chooses to read it that way.

I’ve also been meaning to tackle The Classic Book Tag, which I first encountered on BookwyrmKnits blog. It was originally created by It’s A Book World.

An overhyped classic that you didn’t really like

The one that jumps to my mind is War and Peace. I read it in college in a freshman seminar that explored the themes of war and peace in general. It wasn’t the worst book I read in that class (Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, I’m looking at you!) but after some really dense stuff, I was sort of looking forward to getting into a novel. Besides which, I actually enjoy big, sweeping, epic stories,. But nothing about the narrative or the characters grabbed me. My professor said that Tolstoy was “a great writer, who needed a great editor.” While I think that’s true, I think some of his writing is more compelling in other work. Here he gets to bogged down in extraneous stuff.

Favorite time period to read about

I’m a fan of the Victorian era, which is a pretty long era, spanning Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837-1901. A lot of my favorite writers of days past (the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins) were of this time period.

Favorite fairy tale

I was recently asked this question in an interview I did with F H Denny. I hope no one minds if I copy/paste this from my answer!

To be honest I think Beauty and the Beast has always been a favorite. I love almost every version I’ve read/seen (yes, including Disney!) It’s strange that one of the elements that always appealed to me was the forgotten, enchanted, castle where the Beast lives, but that’s an element that I didn’t include in my retelling at all!

I go on to talk about some pitfalls I wanted to avoid in my own work, so read the interview if that interests you. But I do think that the “gothicness” of the story always appealed to me. The brooding hero, who seems like a villain at first, the abandoned, enchanted castle…

What is the classic you are most embarrassed you haven’t read yet

I try not to be too embarrassed about not having read certain books yet. I mean, having new books to read (even when they’re not technically “new”) is one of life’s great joys, isn’t it? I consider myself pretty well read, but I’ve only been on earth so long, and there are other things I’ve had to do!

There are a few books I feel like I should have gotten to by now though. One of them is Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I think what’s stopped me so far from reading it, is the fact that it’s considered depressing, even by Hardy’s standards! I think he’s a beautiful writer, but he can be kind of a downer, and lately I haven’t felt up to tackling anything like that.

I was in a recent book club discussion where someone mentioned Moby Dick and I realized I’ve never read that before either. I’m not sure if I want to. Part of me wants to read it, if only to say I did, but another part figures “why bother? There so much out there I actually want to read!” Any advice from anyone who’s read it?

Top 5 classics you would like to read soon

Well there are many, many classics that I’d like to reread. But in addition to those I’d like to get to these for the first time:

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay- I really like the film adaptation and I’ve always found the story to be very intriguing.

The Lark by E. Nesbit- I’ve enjoyed E. Nesbit’s books for children and I’d like to read some of her work for adults as well.

Armadale by Wilkie Collins- I’ve really enjoyed Wilkie Collins’ other work that I’ve read. The is the only one of his “major” novels that I haven’t read yet.

Maggie-Now by Betty Smith- Again this is a case of me having liked the author’s other work, and wanting to read more of it.

The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf- I’ve always liked Virginia Woolf best as an essayist so I definitely want to get to this at some point.

Favorite modern book/series based on a classic

So many wonderful choices… Can’t decide on just one…

I’ll go with two books by one author: Circe and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s strange that I loved these books even though I’m not a big fan of the Greek classics on which they were based! I discuss them in this post for anyone interested.

Favorite movie version/tv-series based on a classic

Again, I feel almost like my head is about to explode from so many choices! I’m going to cheat and pick one movie and one tv series.

For film, I’m going with an adaptation of Little Women. I know the Greta Gerwig adaptation was really popular recently, but I actually prefer the 1994 adaptation. Not only is it a beautifully made film with an excellent cast, but it focuses on the story and characters, and not some of the more pedantic aspects that Louisa May Alcott got bogged down with at times. It emphasizes some of the politics and philosophy in which Louisa May Alcott (and her father, Amos Bronson Alcott) strongly believed, but it never espouses these ideas at the expense of the narrative. Rather, it highlights the moments that the narrative espouses these ideas.

For a TV series, I’m going to go with the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. It’s an eight episode miniseries, that manages to convey the epic scope of the novel, without getting bogged down in the minutia. Some of Dickens’ work easily lends itself to adaptation. This book isn’t one of them. I’m very fond of it. In fact, I might call it a favorite, but the plot, surrounding a chancery court case doesn’t lend itself to big, dramatic scenes or spectacle. Some of the twists and turns may even seem contrived to 21st century readers/viewers. However this series manages to make it compelling drama with a strong cast. It also manages to recreate the dark, well, bleak, atmosphere of Dickens’ novel in a way that works cinematically.

Worst classic to movie adaptation

The one that comes to mind first is the 1995 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter. The book was about the cruelty of public shaming and punishment, guilt, and pain. The movie features a Hollywoodized romance that changes the ending and in the process ends up contradicting the message of the book. It also features a very miscast (IMO) Demi Moore.

Favorite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from

I think that Virago Modern Classics are very pretty, and they include a lot of lesser known, underrated classic works. Ditto for Persephone Books. I don’t want to replace all my classics with fancy elaborate editions tough. I like the mishmash of classics that line my walls, with my notes in them, and places I’ve dog-eared still creased a bit. It always annoys me a bit when people have classic editions that look like they haven’t been opened!

An under-hyped classic you would recommend to someone

I’m going to push for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. She’s often overlooked in favor of her sisters (which is easy to happen when your sisters are Emily and Charlotte Bronte!) and even Lucasta Miller’s book, The Bronte Myth, dismissed her in a few sentences. But her work was just as strong in it’s own way, as that of either of her sisters. I love how angry she looks in the family portrait that’s on the book cover next to this text. I always imagine her saying “How dare you overlook me! I’m brilliant!”

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Friendships

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Unpopular Literary Opinions

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Page To Screen Adaptations

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 10: Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far) (This prompt was originally going to be a TTT throwback, but I know how much people love the bi-annual top ten books of the year and I forgot to add it to the list! Feel free to do a throwback instead if you want!)

Since I did a mid-year book post not too long ago, I figured I’d do a throwback this week.  I went with the Top Ten Book To Movie Adaptations.  But since I’m including TV/miniseries I’m just going with “page to screen”.

1. Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995) I know that the 2005 film has its fans, and it has its good points. But for me, Colin Firth is Darcy. Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth. That’s just all there is to it. Perfect casting. Beautiful adaptation.

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2. Jane Eyre (BBC 2006) There are several great adaptations of Jane Eyre, but I’ve always been partial to this one because it’s got a spirit of fun to it. Yes, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens are probably better looking than the Jane and Mr. Rochester described in the book might be,  but they seem to love their characters. I read a review once saying this didn’t add any new colors to the story but it brought all of the existing colors to their full glory (or something along those lines). To me that says it pretty well.

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3. Little Women (1994) I think I saw this film for the first time not too long after I first read the novel. Maybe that’s why these actors seem fused to their characters. Or maybe it’s just really well cast! The film adds some outright feminism and political commentary that doesn’t feel extraneous at all. It also manages the tough plot points well. For example, whenever I watch it, I want to see Jo end up with Professor Bhaer rather than Laurie. And it doesn’t even bother me much when Amy is played by a different actress halfway through.

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4. Anne of Green Gables (1985 miniseries) I’ve seen a few screen Annes (including the most recent “Anne With An ‘E'”) but to me, none of them have approached Megan Follows, who just is Anne to me.  This is another example of something I saw for the first time around the same time that I read the book, which may explain why it’s so definitive for me. I also just really like Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert.

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5. Gone With the Wind (1939) It’s almost impossible to picture Scarlett O’Hara as anyone other than Vivian Leigh. Likewise, it’s hard to picture Rhett Butler not looking like Clark Gable. And yes, occasionally I picture the antebellum American South in something like old Hollywood technicolor, though I’m aware that plantation life was hardly as pretty as the film makes it look. Perhaps its a testament to a good film that I can forget about the ugly reality for a few hours as I watch it, and believe in the fantasy.

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6. Rebecca (1940) This is an example of a film that changes some important plot points from its source material but still works as an adaptation because it maintains the mood and atmosphere of the book. Hitchcock made a wise move refusing to cast Vivian Leigh as the unnamed narrator. The same qualities that made her perfect for Scarlett O’Hara would have made her all wrong for this role. Also, whoever cast Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers really knew what they were doing!

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7. The Age of Innocence (1993) I felt like the narration of this film did it a great service, which is rare, because in many films I find the device overbearing. We see the characters go about their lives, but in the book the weight of social norms and expectations as they did this was tremendous. In the film, we might not even be aware of this if not for the narration that lets us know about it at important points. It could have been done in a clunky way, but it wasn’t. For the most part, it works.

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8. The Princess Bride (1987) This is an example of an adaptation that could have gone all wrong. William Goldman’s novel indulged in tropes that it simultaneously satirized. That’s the kind of thing that is really hard to translate to screen.  It’s done just right. Instead of presenting it as an abridgment of the novel by S. Morgenstern with “commentary” from Goldman, we’re given a frame story of a grandfather reading the book to his sick grandson. It might not have translated at all, but it does.

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9. Matilda (1996) This film relocates the action of Roald Dahl’s tale from the UK to the US. Usually, that’s not a move that I’m a fan of with adaptations. But in this case, it doesn’t hurt the material. Casting wise, Mara Wilson was a lovely Matilda. The character needs to come off as smart and sweet without crossing too far into the precocious and annoying territory. Wilson finds just the right balance. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman are just the right amount of loathsome as the Wormwoods.

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10. Bleak House (BBC 2005) I never thought a story about a legal battle over an estate would capture my interest, but Charles Dickens pulled it off in this book. I didn’t think a book with so many plotlines and characters could be done well as a TV miniseries, but this miniseries proved that wrong too. Most of the plotlines do make it into the series, and the ones that were omitted were the right ones. Plus it’s hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Carey Mulligan, Alun Armstrong, Anna Maxwell Martin and Denis Lawson.

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What do you think? Did I miss any?

25 Bookish Facts About Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters With Whom I’ve Identified

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

April 3: Characters I liked That Were In Non-Favorite/Disliked Books

I wasn’t really feeling this topic, because usually if I don’t like a book I don’t like/relate to/identify with the characters.  So I just decided to look at characters with whom I’ve identified over the course of my life. I think that my ability to identify with the characters that I read about is one reason I fell in love with reading in the first place. These are some characters that I’ve seen a bit of myself in:

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_1. Anne Shirley from LM Montgomery’s Anne series- I’ve posted about my love for Anne before. She was imaginative, creative, she spoke her mind and tried to make the best of bad situations. Yes, she sometimes made mistakes and accidentally dyed her hair green, or got her friends drunk, but who hasn’t?

 

 

51swo9un1-l-_ac_us218_

2. Emily Starr from LM Montgomery’s Emily series- I relate to Emily in a different way from Anne. In some ways, I think I have more in common with her as I grow up. She’s a writer. Like Anne, she tries to look on the bright side, but she needs the support of fiction to help her. In that way, I’m similar.

 

 

51srrilel-_ac_us218_3. Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women– I think most readers of Little Women identify strongly with Jo. I do identify with the other March girls in different ways at different points, but Jo was the one with whom I identified on the most consistent basis. Even when she made decisions that weren’t popular with other readers (like turning down Laurie) I always understood where she was coming from and why.

 

51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_4. Francie Nolan from Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn– I think I was about thirteen when I first “met” Francie Nolan. She and I had a lot in common. Our names were practically the same. For Francie “the world was hers for the reading” and I could relate to that sentiment. Francie was sensitive and creative in a world that often seemed harsh and brutal. In retrospect, my life was far less harsh than hers was, but I related regardless.

 

51k3i-j1fl-_ac_us218_5. Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre– Unlike Jane, I’m not “poor, obscure, plain and little.” Yes, a few of those words could apply to me at different points in my life, but it’s not generally how I see myself. In spite of her words, I don’t think that’s how Jane sees herself either. Regardless of the value (or lack thereof) on which society places her, Jane is always secure in her own self-worth. That’s always been a quality to which I aspire.

 

51igzsbi-ul-_ac_us218_6. Matilda Wormwood from Roald Dahl’s Matilda– Matilda was always a sort of superhero to me. She was lonely, unappreciated, and frightened, and I’ve certainly felt that way at times. But she was also a fighter with a keen sense of justice, a genius IQ and the ability to defy the laws of physics using only her mind. How can you not love a girl like that!?

 

51egwhdscl-_ac_us218_7. Cassandra Mortmain from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle– Cassandra is one of those characters that I carry with me as I read other things. I’ll see another character’s actions and think “Cassandra wouldn’t have made that mistake,” or “Cassandra would do that better.” That’s not to say Cassandra had everything in her life together. Far from it, she was just as confused as anyone else much of the time, but her ability to record everything in her journal gave her a chance to give thought to those moments that most people let pass and forget about.

61wniu1hbzl-_ac_us218_8. Ramona Quimby from Beverley Cleary’s Ramona series- Ramona spoke to the part of me that I often wished I could let free. She wasn’t afraid to be annoying occasionally because she understood that sometimes it’s the only way that you can be heard. She wasn’t afraid to get messy if it looked like fun. I’ve always been a “good girl,” that’s just who I am naturally, but Ramona let my inner rebel run free.

 

61yilvqhjhl-_ac_us218_9.  Sara Crewe from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett- Like me, Sara was addicted to stories. Thankfully I never suffered anything as traumatic as Sara did when I was a child, but I think that much like her, I’ve used imagination and stories as a way of coping with bad times. I also hope that I have some qualities that she shows in this book: resilience, generosity, kindness…

 

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_10. Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding- This is one character who I hope that I’m not too much like. She’s too ridiculous for me to want that! But she also represents the parts of me that are just trying to keep all the different areas of life together. She’s the part that knows that some days just call for chocolate and that sometimes you need to sing into your hairbrush, loudly and off-key.

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.

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: Books Featuring Characters Based on Characters in Other Books

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

September 26:  Ten Books That Feature Characters ____________: Examples: Ten books that feature black main characters, characters who hold interesting jobs, characters who have a mental illness, characters that are adopted, characters that play sports, etc, etc. Can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

I decided to do ten characters that are based on characters in other books. There are a lot of retellings of classics that are just bad. But at their best, these books can be innovative, and original. They can add another layer of understanding to the original text and characters, by highlighting elements that were subtextual in the original. I felt that all these characters added something to my understanding/appreciation of the original text/character. For the purpose of this list I didn’t include characters from fairy tales, myths or legends.  There must be a definite source.

51kbodhni5l-_ac_us218_1. Wide Saragasso Sea by Jean Rhys based on Antoinette (Bertha) Cosway Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre has inspired a lot of fanfiction. Some is good, some isn’t. But novel, featuring the madwoman in the attic from Jane Eyre is haunting, strange and lovely. Antonette Cosway is a Creole heiress who grew up on a decaying plantation in the West Indies. She’s essentially sold into marriage to an Englishman. He brings her to England, away from the only world she knows. In England she finds herself isolated, and expected to conform to narrow expectations of what a woman of her race, class, and gender should be. It’s enough to drive someone insane. In Jane Eyre, I see Mr. Rochester’s actions toward his mad wife as problematic, yes. But given the fact that his wife was a danger to herself and others, she had to be confined. Keeping her confined at home with full time care seemed kinder than what she might expect in a 19th century mental hospital. But in this book, from the wife’s perspective, we begin to wonder if that’s really the case.

“As soon as I turned the key I saw it hanging, the color of fire and sunset. the colour of flamboyant flowers. ‘If you are buried under a flamboyant tree, ‘ I said, ‘your soul is lifted up when it flowers. Everyone wants that.’

She shook her head but she did not move or touch me.”

51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_2. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye based on Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This re-imagining of Jane Eyre features a smart, independent, sympathetic serial killer in the place of the traditional heroine. Jane Steele, like Jane Eyre, was born poor, orphaned, and sent by her aunt to a horrible school (after Jane- accidentally- killed her cousin). At the school she befriends another girl, but the brutal headmaster is preying on the vulnerable girls in his care. So really Jane was justified in what she did… After she leaves school the bodies pile up. She eventually takes a job as a governess, where she cares for the ward of Charles Thornfield. As Jane falls in love with Mr. Thornfield, she becomes curious about his mysterious past. She also becomes rather conflicted about her own. Will a handful of homicides be a deal breaker for Mr Thornfield? This stands out among other works of fanfiction for it’s cleverness and dark humor.

” Reader, I murdered him.”

51628cg19vl-_ac_us218_3. Jack Maggs by Peter Carey based on Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Early in Great Expectations, our protagonist, Pip, encounters Abel Magwitch, a convict. He helps Magwitch and in return Magwitch becomes his secret benefactor. This book opens with Jack Maggs, illegally returned to England from the prison island of Australia. He has a plan that involves revenge, retribution, and justice. He wants to find his “son” and reclaim his house. He draws the attention of a variety of characters including a writer/hypnotist, who promises to help Jack in his quest in exchange for probing his psyche. The names and dates are changed a bit from Great Expectations, but the book makes no secret about the fact that Dickens is its source.

“Now, each day in the Morning Chronicle, each fortnight in the Observer, it was Tobias Oates who ‘made’ the City of London. With a passion he barely understood himself, he named it, mapped it, widened its great streets, narrowed its dingy lanes, framed its scenes with the melancholy windows of his childhood. In this way, he invented a respectable life for himself: a wife, a babe, a household. He had gained a name for comic tales. He had got himself, along the way, a little belly, a friend who was a titled lady, a second friend who was a celebrated actor, a third friend who was a Knight of the Realm, a fourth friend who was an author and tutor to the young Princess Victoria. He did not dare look down, so far had he come. Until this morning, when his fun and games had killed a man.
Then the doctor had cast him out, and this criminal, this outcast, had felt himself free to pick him up and shake him as though he were nothing but a rabbit.”

51e95ew86gl-_ac_us218_4. March by Geraldine Brooks based on Mr. March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: We don’t spend much time with the March girls’ father in Little Women. He was away at war for a while. But this novel tells of his experiences with the war. Not only does this paint a horrific (and, sadly, most likely accurate) picture of war, but it also makes the reader look at Little Woman in a different way. How are the March family’s social activism and beliefs linked to their loss of status and fortune? How is all of the above linked to the abolitionist movement? It’s also interesting to see how March sees his wife and daughters. We feel like we know them well from Little Women, but March sees them a bit differently than a reader might.

“I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces. The broken cities, the burned barns, the innocent injured beasts, the ruined bodies of the boys we bore and the men we lay with.

The waste of it. I sit here, and I look at him, and it is as if a hundred women sit beside me: the revolutionary farm wife, the English peasant woman, the Spartan mother-‘Come back with your shield or on it,’ she cried, because that was what she was expected to cry. And then she leaned across the broken body of her son and the words turned to dust in her throat.”

51t5nldq8kl-_ac_us218_5. Clarissa Vaughn from The Hours by Michael Cunningham  based on Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: The Hours is always a tough book to describe. It imagines Virginia Woolf in the process of writing Mrs. Dalloway. It also imagines a 1950’s housewife, reading the book, and questioning her life. But for me, the most vivid of the three main characters is Clarissa Vaughn, who, like Mrs. Dalloway, is throwing a party, and trying to get things ready for it. Like Mrs. Dalloway, we follow her through her day, as she confronts her life and her choices. The three stories eventually intertwine and come together. But for me Clarissa’s strand seems to stand out a bit. I read this book in college and my professor called it “literary graverobbing” due to Cunningham’s channeling of Woolf’s style. I wouldn’t call it that myself, because I see it more as Cunningham have a conversation with Woolf than with copying her.

“Dear Leonard. To look life in the face. Always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it. To love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard. Always the years between us. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.”

51f63bxc2nl-_ac_us218_6. Bod from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimen based on Mowgli from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: Bod (full name; Nobody Owens) is an orphan who has been raised in a cemetery, by ghosts. We go through several vignettes and episodes in Bod’s childhood. While I was reading this, I honestly didn’t see any parallels to The Jungle Book. Even the title didn’t tip me off…. But when a friend pointed it out, all of a sudden it was unmissable!

“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.”

51x1xphoasl-_ac_us218_7. Erik from Phantom by Susan Kay based on Erik from The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux: It’s hard to believe, just based on it’s massive popularity, but Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera wasn’t all that good. It had its moments, but it seemed to veer from mystery to horror to romance and back again.  I never felt a strong attachment to any character.  In this book Susan Kay resolves a lot of those issues. She follows the character, Erik, from birth. Erik is horribly disfigured from birth, but also, astonishingly gifted. He travels across Europe, learning that while love might forever elude him, power is within his reach.  He creates a home for himself in cellars of the Paris Opera House, where he must finally resolve his conflicted nature. We feel for this character, in a way that we don’t in Lereux’s work, because we’ve seen his journey. His past isn’t as mysterious, but we’re more invested in it.

“Is the mask magic?” he demanded with sudden, passionate interest.
“Yes.” I bowed my head, so that our eyes no longer met. “I made it magic to keep you safe. The mask is your friend, Erik. As long as you wear it, no mirror can ever show you the face again.”
He was silent then and when I showed him the new mask he accepted it without question and put it on hastily with his clumsy, bandaged fingers. But when I stood up to go, he reacted with panic and clutched at my grown.
“Don’t go! Don’t leave me here in the dark.”
“You are not in the dark,” I said patiently. “Look, I have left the candle …”
But I knew, as I looked at him, that it would have made no difference if I had left him fifty candles. The darkness he feared was in his own mind and there was no light in the universe powerful enough to take that darkness from him

51p4swqetkl-_ac_us218_8. Willie Bodega from Bodega Dreams by Ernesto B. Quinonez based on Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Just as Fitzgerald evoked Long Island, Quinonez evokes Spanish Harlem, where Willie Bodega rules. He can get you whatever you need, in exchange for loyalty. Chino is a young man who turns to Bodega for a favor, and finds himself drawn into Bodega’s world, where he learns that Bodega’s ultimate goal is his first love, Vera. The book is notable for how it recreates the  setting. Even someone who has never been to Spanish Harlem comes away from reading this, with an understanding of the sights, the sounds and the smells.

“He was street nobility incarnated in someone who still believed in dreams… triggered by a romantic ideal found only in those poor bastards who really wanted to be poets but got drafted and sent to the front lines.”

41-f8aif5zl-_ac_us218_9. Ada from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier based on Penelope from The Odyssey by Homer: I read The Odyssey by Homer when I was in high school. It wasn’t really my thing. When I heard that Cold Mountain was inspired, in part, by Homer’s epic, I wasn’t that interested in reading it. I’m glad I overcame that hesitation though. I found Penelope one of the more interesting characters in The Odyssey, and I wanted to spend more time with her than Homer did. Fortunately this novel gave me Ada, a Southern gal waiting for her fiance to return from the civil war. As her beloved Inman journey’s home to her, Ada must learn to revive her father’s farm and to survive in a new world.

“…for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you were. All your grief hasn’t changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You’re only left with your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not.”

514hkgpgol-_ac_us218_10. Felix Phillips from Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood based on The Tempest by William Shakespeare: Felix was once a renowned theater director. He was ousted from his post by his assistant, and so he hides away and plans his revenge. Under a fake name he begins to teach literacy in a prison. Each year his class puts on a Shakespeare performance. When the time is right for Felix’s revenge, he  stages The Tempest for his former assistant. As he stages the play he reenacts the events in his own life. It’s all very meta.

“The rest of his life. How long that time had once felt to him. How quickly it has sped by. How much of it has been wasted. How soon it will be over.”

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books as a Kid

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’m featuring some f my favorite books from childhood. For the purposes of this list, I’m considering books that I read under the age of 13.

61zj9bc2qwl-_ac_us218_1. Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak– A lot of kids are drawn to other Sendak work like Where the Wild Things Are and Pierre. I like those too. But there’s a special place in my heart for this book, about  a girl who must save her baby sister, who has been kidnapped by goblins. It’s dark and some kids might find it scary. I know I did! But it was one of those books that was empowering in spite of the fact that it was scary.  The heroine uses the skills and wisdom that she learned from her father, to prove that  scary goblins are ultimately childish bullies themselves.

When Papa was away at sea, and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still- but never watched. So the goblins came. They pushed their way in and pulled the baby out leaving another made all of ice.

51igzsbi-ul-_ac_us218_2. Matilda by Roald Dahl- My dad read this too me when I was about six or seven. I loved Matilda then, and I do now. She was crazy smart, teaching herself to read and do difficult math before kindergarten. She didn’t put up with any bad behavior from anyone- especially the adults who should know better.  Some parts of the story made me and my dad laugh so hard that my mom came in to listen along with us. So it was a family bonding thing as well as a great book. I recently read the book with my students and it was so wonderful to see another generation of kids fall in love with Matilda.

“There aren’t many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,’ Matilda said.
‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked.
‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and love to laugh.”

51-np75sehl-_ac_ul320_sr218320_3. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery- I spoke a bit about my love for Anne here. As far as I was concerned, she was the coolest kid to ever accidentally dye her hair green, get drunk on current wine, or break a slate over the head of a teasing boy. I appreciated the later books in the series at different points in my life, but as a kid, I related most to young Anne in this book.  Later on , I related more to older Anne, as she grew.

“They keep coming up new all the time – things to perplex you, you know. You settle one question and there’s another right after. There are so many things to be thought over and decided when you’re beginning to grow up. It keeps me busy all the time thinking them over and deciding what’s right. It’s a serious thing to grow up, isn’t it, Marilla?”

51srrilel-_ac_us218_4. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott- I read an adapted edition of this book in second grade and immediate sought out the full book. I struggled through it, and eventually made it all the way through a little later on. I loved all the March sisters: Jo was so imaginative and adventurous. Meg was practical and smart. Beth was so kind hearted and Amy was a hopeless romantic. I could relate to all of them on one level or another but I related to Jo the most, because like me, she was an aspiring writer.

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.”

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett- I discussed this one a bit here. I love the story of the orphan in the gothic mansion full of secrets. I loved that she was able to make a place for herself in such a strange place. It was wonderful to see isolated children like Mary and Colin discover friendship and creativity. I soooo wanted to discover a secret garden of my own. A part of me still does.

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”

61bwr8sfvhl-_ac_us218_6. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards– I was about nine when  I read this book. I found it in a store and I decided to read it because it sounded a  lot like The Secret Garden.  Like that one, this was about an orphan who creates a small pace just for herself, and ends up finding a family. I remember about half way through I was loving it so much that I flipped to the “About the Author” page at the end of the book and I was shocked to see that “Julie Edwards” was the married name of Julie Andrews, the Academy Award winning actress best known for films like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins! I also discovered that she’d written several other novels for children. They’re all lovely but this one is by far my favorite!

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

51uvxo85zl-_ac_us218_7. The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell– This is based on the true story of Karana, a Native American of the Nicoleno tribe, living on San Nicholas Island in the 19th Century. When her tribe falls on hard times the new chief leaves via canoe to find a new land. Eventually he sends a large canoe for the others to join him.  Karana and her brother are left behind. They live alone on the island until her brother’s death, when Karana is completely isolated. She befriends the animals living on the island and makes a life for herself for eighteen years. I suppose the idea of being completely alone for that long fascinated and horrified me as a kid. I tried to imagine how this girl must have felt and how she could have survived.

“After that summer, after being friends with Won-a-nee and her young, I never killed another otter. I had an otter cape for my shoulders, which I used until it wore out, but never again did I make a new one. Nor did I ever kill another cormorant for its beautiful feathers, though they have long, think necks and make ugly sounds when they talk to each other. Nor did I kill seals for their sinews, using instead kelp to bind the things that needed it. Nor did I kill another wild dog, nor did I try to speak another sea elephant.
Ulape would have laughed at me, and other would have laughed, too — my father most of all. Yet this is the way I felt about the animals who had become my friends and those who were not, bu in time could be. If Ulape and my father had come back and laughed, and all the other had come back and laughed, still I would have felt the same way, for animals and birds are like people, too, though they do no talk the same or do the same things. Without them the earth would be an unhappy place.”

51dtol9n8al-_ac_us218_8. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder- As a kid I was sort of fascinated by the idea that most of humanity existed without the comforts that I enjoyed every day. On one hand I thought that it might be kind of fun to live off the land and your own hard work. But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my running water to try it. I kept my homesteading confined to the page!

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

51syki73tbl-_ac_us218_9. Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume– This is the first book that I remember made me laugh out loud. It was another book that my parents read to me when I was very young. I liked the depiction of the sibling relationship.

Some people might think that my mother is my biggest problem. She doesn’t like turtles and she’s always telling me to scrub my hands. But my mother isn’t my biggest problem. Neither is my father. He spends a lot of time watching commercials on TV. That’s because he’s in the advertising business. My biggest problem is my brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher. He’s two-and-a-half years old. Everybody calls him Fudge. I feel sorry for him if he’s going to grow up with a name like Fudge, but I don’t say a word. It’s none of my business.

51bkx0sulel-_ac_us218_10. Ramona the Pest by Beverley Cleary– Ramona Quimby was my spirit animal as a kid. I could relate to her. She never really meant any harm, but she always got herself into trouble anyway. I liked other characters in the series; Ramona’s sister Beezus, and their neighbor Henry, but this was the first to have Ramona as the protagonist.

“She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.”