I did one of these a long time ago. I started trying to think of another ten literary guys I love, but then I started thinking about the guys who are usually cited as literary crushes, who just don’t appeal to me. In most cases I still root for them and their love interests in the context of the book (though there are one or two exceptions to that as well) but they’re just not for me. Just a warning there may be some spoilers here:
Laurie from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- I don’t dislike him, but I definitely think Jo made the right call turning him down. Even at the end of the book, when he’s matured, I still feel like he’s kind of childish. That can be endearing, but it’s not what I’d choose for a partner.
Maxim DeWinter from Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- Yes the handsome millionaire would catch my attention. But he’s emotionally closed off from the get go, and learning that he killed his first wife wouldn’t make me more attracted to him (in spite of the fact that it seems to do for his second wife…)
August 10: Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love -Warning, some of these have spoilers
1. Beth in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Beth’s description is pretty much summed as “the sweet one who dies.” That’s what she’s remembered for. But I recently read March Sisters: On Love, Death and Little Women, in which four contemporary writers look back on the March sister that resonated with them most. Carmen Maria Machado writes about Beth, and how her illness and death take over anything else she may have been, both for her sisters and for readers. Beth was based on Alcott’s own sister, Lizzie, who also died young (though not quite as young as Beth). While Alcott seemed to remember Lizzie in much the way the March sisters do Beth, there’s historical evidence to suggested that Lizzie Alcott was more than simply someone who died tragically young. That makes me suspect that Beth may also have more going on than she’s given credit for.
2. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – Mercutio steals almost every scene that he’s in, in most productions and adaptations of this play. There’s plenty of LGBT speculation about his relationship with Romeo prior to the action of the play, but even leaving that aside, he’s so vivid and vibrant, witty and cynical, which makes his death even more tragic. He’s not a Montague or a Capulet. He’s simply caught up in their feud because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. But his death is sort of a hinge for the play. Prior to that, there was hope for a less than tragic outcome. But when he’s killed, and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge, the seeds for the dénouement are sown.
4. Jane Fairfax in Emma by Jane Austen – Emma is bright, accomplished, pretty, and rich, but she feels a sense of rivalry around Jane. She senses that Jane is an equal and in some ways a superior, and therefore she considers her a threat. That’s what makes the reader initially take notice. Of course when it comes out that Jane been secretly engaged to Frank Churchill (who’s been openly flirting with Emma…) we get the sense that there’s been more going on beneath the surface of Jane. We never really learn what it is though. Joan Aiken wrote some fan fiction speculation in Jane Fairfax but that’s as close as we’ll ever get.
5. Walter Blythe in the later books of the Anne of Green Gables books by LM Montgomery– Like Anne he’s got some literary asperations, and is admired for his ability to “talk book talk” (I love that phrase!) He’s bullied in childhood, but bright and imaginative. Oh, and doomed. He was definitely my favorite of Anne’s children.
6. Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Come on! These guys do just as much work as the main three, they get awfully close to the main action, but they’re constantly relegated to the sidelines.
7. Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen– Kitty and Lydia are the silly ones. Jane and Lizzie are the smart ones. But what is Mary? There’s been plenty of fan fiction (justafewexampleshere) speculating that there’s something more to her than just the middle child. I really tried to limit myself to only one Austen character (I also think Charlotte Lucas and Mrs. Bennet deserve more love) but I found I had to do two.
8. Great Uncle Matthew from Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild– He’s Sylvia’s uncle and he takes care of her following the death of her parents, but we don’t know much more than that really… He’s geologist who seems to go around the world collecting parentless babies? Surely there’s got to be more to the story than that!
9. Molly Grue from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – Molly dreamed all her life of seeing a unicorn. When she finally does, she’s no longer young and beautiful. She tells the unicorn off for taking so long, saying “‘Where have you been…Damn you, where have you been?… Where where you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?‘ With a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. ‘I wish you had never come. Why did you come now?’ The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.” I think that sense of missed opportunity is heartbreaking. I think that the fact that Molly reacts to it with anger first is such a human thing to do, that it makes it even more heartbreaking. She deserves more love.
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 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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. 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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
“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?”
“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
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)
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.
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.